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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My Answers (A Flock of Readers for The Sparrow)

Discussion Question Responses to
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

Welcome fellow SPARROW readers! I hope you are enjoying this amazing book and the read-a-long we've put together.

Below are my answers to some of the discussion questions and also a few quotes that stand out to me. I welcome your comments and am looking forward to reading your discussion posts.

  • From the beginning of the book we know that Something Bad happened during the mission but it takes until almost the end of the book for the reader to get the whole story. Do you think the author built the suspense to the perfect pitch or do you feel that she drew it out too long?

    The first time I read this, the suspense really got to me. I simply could NOT put the book down and I read until 4am one night, even though my eyes were closing and I had to get up just a few hours later. I thought that this time would be different, that since I knew what is coming there wouldn’t be so much suspense. How wrong I was! I finally realized that I cannot read this book before bed or it will make me so anxious that I’m unable to sleep. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just shows that this author can write a very powerful book.
  • Many people, in times of crises, ask how God can let bad things happen to good people. If someone asked you this, what would be your response? How do you think the author is choosing to answer that question in this book?

    This is a question I have never struggled with, although my husband has and we have debated it extensively. The way I see it, God gave everyone free will. Sometimes our own choices result in heartbreak for us, sometimes it is the choices of others that do it, and sometimes there is no fault to be handed out. It is those cases that are the hardest to reconcile, but I see it this way: we live in an imperfect world, a world that God did not intend for us (he gave man perfection and man chose sin). While we are here on earth we have to deal with that imperfection. But more than that, God uses all things for a purpose – even horrible things, even when we can’t see the purpose; something good will come out of it for someone, somewhere. Does that make is any easier to deal with? No, and yes. It doesn’t make the heartbreak go away but in my case I do get a sense of peace from it.

    As for how the author is answering that, I can't say just yet - I want to finish the book first.
  • A basic premise of this story is an evaluation of the harm that results from the explorer's inability to assess a culture from the threshold of exploration. Do you see any parallels between the voyage of the eight explorers on the Rakhat mission and the voyages of other explorers from past history--Columbus, Magellan, Cortez, and others--who inaccurately assessed the cultures they discovered?

    I don’t have an answer to this except to ask are we CONTINUING to incorrectly evaluate other cultures? I came across this post recently and it has really stuck with me. I haven’t read that book but the premise is one that really caught my attention.
  • "It is rare to find a book about interplanetary exploration that has this much insight into human nature and foresight into a possible future.” - San Antonio Express News

    But isn’t that what GOOD scifi – actually, any good book in any genre – is supposed to do - give us insight into ourselves? I want books to give me a new way to look at people, myself included, and a new way to view society. I want books to open my eyes to things I haven’t considered before.

I'm only up to chapter 27 in my re-read but here are some of the quotes that have stood out to me so far:
  • p59 – Anne realizes that she is attracted to Emilio but rather than throwing away her marriage she reviews herself and her life in the most honest way possible and makes a conscious decision to love Emilio as a son and to continue to love her husband.
  • p156 – Anne: “I’ve been married at least four times, to four different men. […] They’ve all been named George Edwards.” This section is one I love for its realistic look at the way a marriage and its partners change over time but can still remain strong.
  • p106 – Emilio’s prayer: “Lord, I believe. Help me in my disbelief.” What person of faith hasn’t felt that conflict before? It really resonated with me.
  • p201 – Marc, discussing faith in God: “Perhaps we must all own up to being agnostic, unable to know the unknowable.” There are things we will simply never understand, and we have to be okay with that.
  • p212 – John: “There is a difference between being responsible and being culpable.” This is really a profound statement and it speaks to many people who hold themselves responsible for what happened to someone else.
  • p288 – Anne: “What sticks in my throat is that God gets the credit but never the blame. I just can’t swallow that kind of theological candy. Either God’s in charge or He’s not.” I love this discussion between Anne and Emilio. He goes on to ask her if this is the only thing standing in the way of her believing in God. I think this is something that stands in MANY people’s way, and I love the discussion that follows.
My co-hosts and I were discussing the book on Twitter and realized that the author gives SO MUCH away right up front, but that none of us noticed it the first time we read the book. Re-reading it now, knowing what is coming, we were able to pick out all the times we should have figured out "the big secret"; however, at the same time, were were all in complete suspense about the ending. Nothing has been ruined for us by knowing the end - in fact, the book is even better for it in my opinion.

Now I'm off to see what the rest of you thought about this book ...


Anna said...

I'm going to have to read this one at some point. You've definitely made me curious!

Diary of an Eccentric

Florinda said...

Thanks so much for putting the discussion together, Heather! It was tough to choose which questions to answer - there were so many good ones. My post will be up tomorrow.

I actually like the device of letting the reader Something Bad happens up front, but having the details get parceled out and piecing it together as the story goes on. It's like that "72 Hours Earlier" thing they do on some TV shows :-).

I like that you included so many quotes from Anne - I think she's my favorite character, and that "theological candy" reference is pretty on-target for me.

Heather J. said...

Anna - You definitely have to read this book!!!

Florinda - No problem! I'm glad you suggested this read-a-long and I'm really looking forward to the discussion the Qs will generate.

Suey said...

I love all the quotes you've pulled from the book. They all stood out to me too. It's making me wish I would have marked some to remember too.

It's very fun for me to see how you all that have read it before are seeing things on a re-read. Interesting.

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