The Sparrow Summary

The Sparrow is a science fiction novel about a doomed Jesuit mission to the planet Rakhat.

  • Father Emilio Sandoz, the mission’s sole survivor, recounts the events on Rakhat in a series of hearings after his return to Earth.
  • On Rakhat, Emilio and his crew befriended members of the Runa species and felt they were serving God. But several crew members died, and Emilio was taken captive by members of Rakhat’s dominant species, the Jana’ata.
  • Emilio was ritually mutilated and repeatedly raped by the Jana’ata, destroying his faith. After unwittingly murdering a Runa, he was returned to Earth by members of the next mission.


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Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1295

The Sparrow shifts between two connected narratives. The first narrative is the story of the priest Emilio Sandoz’s return to Earth and the Jesuit leadership’s inquiry into what happened to him on the planet Rakhat. These hearings occur between December 2059 and August 2060. The second narrative, beginning in 2019, is the story of the mission itself.

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The novel begins in 2059. Emilio Sandoz, the lone survivor from the Jesuit mission to the planet Rakhat, has returned to Earth, triggering a storm of media attention. The Jesuit Father General, Vincenzo Giuliani, has brought John Candotti and Edward Behr to help Emilio through the hearings.

Emilio is a broken man. He suffers from malnutrition, debilitating headaches, night terrors, and mental confusion. His physical injuries include permanently mutilated hands.

The Father General begins the hearings to discover what happened on Rakhat. He explains to Emilio that after the mission secretly departed, the news of it became public, and a second mission, mandated by the UN, was launched. Members of this second mission eventually found Emilio in a state of degradation. The members of the second mission also reported that they had seen Emilio murder the young VaRakhati who had led them to him.

In subsequent hearings, Emilio recounts details of the mission. Emilio reports the details of first contact and the social structures of the two sentient species they discovered on the planet: the Runa and the Jana’ata. Whenever Giuliani brings up Emilio’s spiritual experience on Rakhat, Emilio becomes deeply upset.

Over time, Emilio’s mental and physical state improves. Eventually, Emilio shares the awful truth of what happened on Rakhat, reliving the deaths of his fellow crew members and describing the sexual violence he endured, the suffering that ultimately shattered his faith in God. This revelation is therapeutic for Emilio.

Woven throughout the narrative of the hearings in Italy is the story of the mission to Rakhat, beginning in 2019. Jimmy Quinn, a young astronomer at the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico, has been assigned by his manager to a “vulture”—someone who will analyze his work and develop artificial intelligence software capable of completing it. Jimmy seeks the advice of his friend, the priest Emilio Sandoz, who admits that he has been “done” by a vulture. He advises Jimmy to ask for someone good and recommends Sofia Mendes.

In his career as a priest, Emilio, a gifted linguist, was deliberately moved to various locations and cultures. During this time, he became adept at quickly learning new languages. After several years, his superiors had an artificial intelligence expert work with him to codify his language-learning ability. The “vulture” was Sofia Mendes: beautiful, intelligent, and impersonal.

During his time in Cleveland, Emilio met and befriended Anne and George Edwards. After his work with Sofia Mendes was complete, he requested to return to the slums of San Juan, Puerto Rico. A few months later, he convinced Anne, a doctor, and George, a retired engineer, to join him in his work there. George decided to volunteer at Arecibo, and it was there that George met...

(The entire section contains 1295 words.)

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