The Sparrow Read-along: week four

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Better late than never, I’m tackling the final week of The Sparrow read-along. When the wheels come off on Rakhat, they take everyone out. At last we know exactly what happened – but how do we feel about it?

The final act of The Sparrow is a relentless rollercoaster as the mission grapple with the fact they are stranded on Rakhat, finally meet a representative of the Singers, flirt with the hope that they may yet be able to synthesize the fuel to get home… and then all die horribly, except poor abandoned Emilio.

Not going to lie, there were tears. Howling, actually. I don’t handle the deaths of favourite characters well – even when I know from the start what’s in store for them.

Pour out a glass for the fallen. Anything you’d like to get off your chest?

I am not okay, still not okay, never okay. I know there’s a realism in death falling rapidly and unexpectedly: little room for heroism, no closure – but it hurts. I guess it’s a nod to Russell for making me care so much about these characters that their loss left me feeling bereft.

I’m still not sure how I feel about Sofia’s choices, but I kept circling back to the central tenet of faith that she clings to: choose life. Everything about her life makes sense through that lens, and it makes me grieve for her more sharply.

So, Supaari then – how do you judge his choices?

I reserve judgement on Supaari. We are given lots of context for his position and ambition, without being given a window onto his final decisions. He genuinely seems to be trying to do right by his alien friends… until he completely betrays Emilio. Did he sell out to secure his bloodline or was there some deeper misunderstanding in play?

While the narrative works hard to make him sympathetic, he is both ambitious and constrained by his society. We see his affection for Anne, but he doesn’t have the same attachment to Emilio and the others. While he has made plenty of money from their goods, their actions (the gardens, the resistance at Kashan) must surely – both directly and indirectly – have damaged his standing.

So much of this novel is about prejudice and seeing the story you expect to be told. In the end, I think – objectively – that Supaari’s choices are ambiguous. We’re led up the garden path to think the worst, much as Giuliani pursues Emilio’s confession with the preconceived idea that – on some level – he was complicit in what happened.

While I’ve read the sequel and remember that we get the context we’re missing, I can’t recall whether it condemns or exonerates Supaari.

Were you surprised by Voelker? Was Giuliani right to push for the full story?

The hateful ice man had a heart! Yes, I was surprised by Voelker – in the end, he exhibited far more compassion than I expected. I think this must have been a very humbling experience for him; I like to hope it made him a better person.

I rather doubt it significantly changed the Father Superior. He too was in the grip of his own prejudices – some carried since he was at school with Emilio, for Pete’s sake – but while he was surprised by what he learned, I don’t know that it changed him. I don’t know that it changed what he would do next time. I’m too chaotic good to be comfortable with his conviction that he knows best and that the ends justify the means; and I’m not comforted by his conviction that the harrowing of Emilio’s soul is some sort of purifying fire that brings him closer to God.

And on the one hand, the scene in which Emilio accepts that he was a victim is very powerful and Emilio probably did need to confront that in order to heal – and to accept that it wasn’t his fault (because of all those judging Emilio and finding him guilty, he’s first in the queue). On the other, publicly bullying someone into admitting they were raped is never the way to help them.

Fuck you, Vince.

Do you think Emilio will make his peace with God – and how does that sit with you?

It sits badly with me to be honest – far more so now than when I read it nearly 20 years ago. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t actually think the narrative upholds martyrdom as the road to knowing God – quite the opposite, I think it deliberately and repeatedly punctures this conceit. Emilio is at his best when finally the weird paths he has walked down come together and have meaning at Kashan. In general, all the characters are at their best when united in compassion and mutual support in the face of setbacks. For me, The Sparrow is about resilience; not to pass it off as deus vult but to howl fuck you back at the storm and find the strength to move on. So in the end, while I can’t judge Emilio for wanting to salvage the comfort of his faith, I don’t love that he tries to and I don’t get the catharsis or closure from it that I think we’re intended to.

But I did like his juxtaposition of the Catholic vs Jewish ways of reconciling horror with the belief in a merciful God: they share the idea that God grieves for His children’s sorrows, but the Jewish belief explains why He can’t intervene. A bit like Emilio telling Anne it’s okay to get mad at God, this I can get on board with – and it’s certainly a better framework for coming to terms with what happened to Emilio.

Anything else you’d like to reflect on?

I think I’ve left it too late for anything deep or insightful. I still love this book primarily for its characters – the joy is in the people and how they bring out the best in one another. I’m glad to have shared them with my read-along buddies.


The following SciFiMonth crew joined our epic journey through space and souls:

Read the book? We’re all caught up – feel free to go full-spoiler with your comments!