My friend Meredith told me about Mary Doria Russell's book The Sparrow. Jesuits in space, she said. It will make you question your faith, she said. Well, of course I had to read it. I was wildly curious.
The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God primarily tell the story of Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest whose incredible linguistic abilities secure his passage on a ship to Rakhat, a newly discovered planet with signs of sentient habitation. I don't want to spoil any of this amazing story, but while on Rakhat, Emilio is brutalized and mutilated due to a simple language misunderstanding.
What's interesting to me about Emilio is his spiritual journey of the course of the two books. It's not your typical hero's journey. When Emilio travels to Rakhat, he is in a peculiar position spiritually. He has been a devoted follower of God all his life, but his relationship with God has always been intellectual, never personal. On Rakhat, in his darkest moments (really dark--if it was a movie, it would have to be rated R), Emilio feels he has been deserted by God. You really have to read both books to get the whole sense of Emilio's journey--just reading the first book leaves Emilio in kind of a hopeless place. But over the course of the second book, Emilio's relationship with God becomes more personal, and watching the transformation is a beautiful thing.
Even the titles of the books lend insight into Emilio and his journey toward God. The Sparrow evokes the Bible verse that tells us that God knows when even a sparrow falls, that God sees Emilio where he is and is with him even when Emilio is at his lowest point and feels deserted by all, including God. Children of God is what Emilio becomes more fully, a child of God finally able to fully trust Him.
Emilio as a personality doesn't intrigue me so much as his transformation, spiritually. I think it's just about the most beautiful character arc in all of literature.
Tomorrow: A trip to England with Miss Jane Austen . . .