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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Flock of Readers for "The Sparrow": Discussion Questions

It is the year 2019. From an outer space listening post on Puerto Rico come the sounds of exquisite singing—emanating from a planet that will be known by earth as Rakhat. While the international community debates endlessly about sending a mission, a scientific team of eight Jesuits quietly launches its own. What they discover on Rakhat makes them question the very basis of what it means to be human. Four decades later, Emilio Sandoz, the sole survivor, attempts to tell what happened. – summary via LitLovers

Welcome to the discussion question portion of A Flock of Readers for THE SPARROW. Florinda, Rebecca and I are thrilled that so many of you have committed to read this book with us.
(It's not too late to join in if you haven't already!)

In this post you’ll find a lengthy list of questions and reviewer quotes. Look them over and choose a few to respond to on your blog, or simply share your thoughts on the book so far. You don't have to be finished the book to participate in the discussion! You can post your answers any time prior to March 30 (that is the date your review should be posted). Once your post is up, leave a link to it in the comment section of this post. If you don’t have a blog please share your thoughts in the comment section.

NOTE: If your answers to the questions include spoilers for the end of the book, please note that at the start of your post; we don't want to ruin the book for any of the participants!

I’ve created a new post that will list the links to your answer posts. I’ll update it whenever new links are added here. Click here to see the list so far. I encourage you to read the other participants answers to the questions. This book gives us so much to talk about – let’s get the conversation started!

Discussion Questions - courtesy of me
  1. For first time readers, how does your reading so far match up to what you expected from this book?
  2. This book is set in a not-so-distant future in which the balance of world power has shifted from the United States to Japan. Poverty, indentured servitude, ghettos, and “future brokers” are common. Based on this projected future, would you classify this novel as dystopian? Do you think this future is a real possibility based on where the world is today?
  3. 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?
  4. If you've gotten to the end, was the final truth one you expected or were you taken by surprise?
  5. 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?

Discussion Questions - adapted from Reading Group Guides
  1. How do faith, love, and the role of God in the world drive the plot of this story? One reviewer characterized this book as "a parable about faith--the search for God, in others as well as Out There." Do you agree? If so, why?
  2. 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?
  3. Despite currently popular revisionism, many historians view the early discoverers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries not as imperialists or colonists but as intellectual idealists burning to know what God's plan had hidden from them. Do you agree? Does this story make you reconsider the motives of those early explorers?
  4. One of the mainstays of the Star Trek universe is the "prime directive" which mandates the avoidance of interference in alien cultures at all costs. Would the "prime directive" have changed the outcome of events on Rakhat? Why or why not?
  5. The discoverers of Rakhat seem to be connected by circumstances too odd to be explained by anything but a manifestation of God's will. Did God lead the explorers to Rakhat--step by step--or was Sandoz responsible for what happened? If that's the case, how could God let the terrible aftermath happen?
  6. One reviewer wrote, "It is neither celibacy, faith, exotic goods, nor (as Sandoz bitterly asserts) the introduction of one of humanity's oldest inventions that leads to the crisis between humans and aliens. The humans get into trouble because [...] in short, they fail because they fail to put themselves into the aliens' shoes." Do you agree? If so, why? If not, why not?
  7. The Jesuits saw so many of their fellows martyred all over the world throughout history. Why aren't they more sympathetic in dealing with Sandoz--a man victimized by his faith?
  8. What is this story about? Is it a story about coming face-to-face with a sentient race that is so alien as to be incomprehensible, about putting up a mirror to our own inner selves, or something else entirely?

Author Quotes - courtesy of LitLovers

Does this quote from Mary Doria Russell give you any additional insights into this book?
  • "I learned that intentions are irrelevant and regrets are useless: it doesn't matter what you thought would happen, or that you meant no harm. Unintended consequences of good intentions are a theme I return."

Reviewer Quotes - courtesy of Reading Group Guides and LitLovers

Do you agree or disagree with the reviewers quoted below? Are they right or wrong in their assessment of the book? Did you view the book in the same way?
  • "Important novels leave deep cracks in our beliefs, our prejudices, and our blinders. The Sparrow is one of them." —Entertainment Weekly
  • "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
  • “Readers who dislike an emphasis on moral dilemmas or spiritual quests may be turned off, but those who enjoy science fiction because it can create these things are in for a real treat.” - Science Fiction Weekly If you are a SciFi fan, do you prefer your books heavy on adventure, heavy on philosophy, or a mix of the two?
  • "The final revelation of the tragic human mistake that ends in Sandoz's degradation isn't the event for which readers have been set up. Much like the worlds it juxtaposes, this novel seems composed of two stories that fail to come together.” - Publishers Weekly
  • “The dense prose in this complex tale may at first seem off-putting, but hang on for the ride; it's riveting!” — Jennifer Henderson, Booklist

I look forward to reading your responses. Thanks for participating!


Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog said...

These are great questions, Heather. My answers are here.

Florinda said...

Thanks for starting the discussion, Heather - my responses are posted.

Suey said...

I've got my post up here.

Jan said...

My review is on my blog at Wish i had time today to write on the individual questions. I'll try tto return later.

Anonymous said...

Great questions! Here are my answers:

Laurie said...

I'm sorry I read the book too long ago to join in the discussion. I just saw the mention of the blog on Twitter. is one of my all-time favorite books.

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