The Sparrow

by Mary Doria Russell

Start Free Trial

The Sparrow Characters

The main characters in The Sparrow include Emilio Sandoz, Vincenzo Giuliani, and Sofia Mendes.

  • Emilio Sandoz is a Jesuit priest and linguist who becomes the sole survivor of the mission to Rakhat. His experiences on Rakhat shatter his once-powerful faith in God and leave him physically mutilated.
  • Vincenzo Giuliani is the Father General of the Society of Jesus and the director of Emilio’s hearings when Emilio returns to Earth.
  • Sofia Mendes is a developer of artificial intelligence programs and a member of the mission to Rakhat. Loved by both Emilio and Jimmy Quinn, the mission’s astronomer, she eventually marries Jimmy.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Emilio Sandoz

Originally from La Perla slum in Puerto Rico, Emilio Sandoz is a Jesuit priest and accomplished linguist. He is the central character of the novel.

Around friends, Emilio is both funny and thoughtful, always willing to join in witty banter. With children, he is gentle and charming. Several characters in the novel are attracted to Emilio, and he is described as having “exotic good looks.”

To those he is uncomfortable with, however, Emilio is stoic and mysterious. Vincenzo Giuliani initially describes Emilio as “a puzzling man”; John Candotti, meeting Emilio after his return to Earth, “could not imagine this man laughing.” It is not until later, when trust is gained, that Candotti sees the witty, relaxed side of Emilio.

Emilio is a deeply spiritual man, and his search for God is central to the book. It is Emilio who believes that God is calling the Jesuits to send a mission to Rakhat. Upon arriving on Rakhat and meeting the Runa, Emilio has an intense spiritual experience.

This spiritual high sets the stage for Emilio’s spiritual crash. The tragic ending to the Rakhat mission, and the brutal sexual violence Emilio is subjected to, shatters his faith in a loving God.

Vincenzo Giuliani

Vincenzo Giuliani is the Father General for the Society of Jesus at the time of Emilio’s return to Earth.

Giuliani struggles to understand Emilio but commits to patiently observing him in order to uncover what happened on Rakhat.

Although initially presented as manipulative, Giuliani proves to be an intuitive and compassionate leader. Despite some missteps, his decisions of whom to involve and how to proceed with the hearings allow Emilio to recover, to share what happened on Rakhat, and ultimately to move toward healing.

John Candotti

A priest from Chicago, John Candotti is a “bony, big-nosed, half-bald man” who “once waded into a street fight simply because he thought the odds were too lopsided.” It is this sense of compassion that draws Candotti to befriend the ostracized Emilio.

Candotti is able to make Emilio feel comfortable, and it is Candotti whom Emilio chooses as his confessor.

Johannes Voelker

Voelker is the Father General’s private secretary. He is described as “an unappealing man . . . efficient and intelligent but, atypically for a Jesuit, he had a polar mind: everything was black or white, sin or virtue, Us versus Them." During the hearings, Voelker is often harsh and accusatory with Emilio.

Although Candotti refers to Voelker as “a jerk,” even Voelker’s view of Emilio changes as the truth is revealed.

Edward Behr

Edward Behr is the Jesuit priest who is assigned to care for Emilio upon his return to Earth. Behr is adept at interacting with traumatized people; he realizes that Emilio requires “careful handling,” and he purposefully adopts “a sort of British butler persona.” It is Behr who is intimately familiar with Emilio’s physical injuries and night terrors. Behr is the one who frequently pursues Emilio when he flees the room, overwhelmed, and it is the loyal Behr who protects Emilio when reporters break into his room.

Felipe Reyes

Felipe Reyes grew up in La Perla slum and, as a child, was greatly influenced by Emilio. When Emilio returns to Earth, the Father General brings Felipe to Naples to help with the hearings.

Jimmy Quinn

Jimmy Quinn is the young astronomer at Arecibo who discovers the first extraterrestrial transmission and joins the mission to Rakhat to find its source.

Jimmy proves himself to be quite intelligent. He can empathize with others, a skill that allows him to propose a plan to Arecibo management that satisfies all parties....

(This entire section contains 1296 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

During the mission to Rakhat, Jimmy explains difficult scientific concepts to other members of the group. Near the end of the novel, as D.W. prepares for his death, he instructs Anne to position Jimmy as the decision-maker of the crew, having seen Jimmy’s level-headed reaction to crisis.

Jimmy is “a generous soul, with an impulse to heal hurts and lighten loads.” In the face of Sofia’s physical injuries after the plane crash, and the reality of her past as a prostitute, Jimmy shows tender affection and selflessness.

George Edwards

George is a retired engineer who, while living in Puerto Rico, volunteers at the Arecibo dish. There, he meets Jimmy Quinn and eventually joins the Jesuit mission to Rakhat.

George has an “exuberant, try-anything approach to life.” It is George who is first convinced of joining the Rakhat mission, while his wife, Anne, is still hesitant; during their time on Rakhat, George is eager to try new skills and learn about the planet’s technology. When the crew realizes they do not have enough fuel to get back to the lander, George insists that it was his fault for wasting fuel doing trick flying. Out of this guilt, George focuses on finding a solution, hoping to be able to manufacture fuel for their return to Earth.

Anne Edwards

Anne is the doctor at the Jesuit clinic in La Perla slum. While Anne is at first skeptical of joining the mission to Rakhat, her medical skills and knowledge of anthropology are an asset to the Jesuit mission.

Emilio first describes Anne as “compact, quick and intellectually fearless, with a lovely pealing laugh.” Anna’s sense of humor and sharp observation skills allow her to form special connections with others, and she becomes a mother figure in the group.

Sofia Mendes

Sofia Mendes is a member of the Jesuit mission to Rakhat.

Contracted by her broker to develop artificial intelligence programs, Sofia first meets Emilio to develop a language-learning program. Later, she works with Jimmy Quinn at Arecibo. Both Emilio and Jimmy are attracted to her from the beginning, and both of them develop a deep love for her.

Sofia is beautiful and has “a lightning brightness . . . that made an interesting contrast to a rather appealing awkwardness in social situations.” Over the course of the novel, Sofia changes from being very cold and formal to forming deep relationships with others on the mission, eventually starting a family of her own.

Dalton Wesley “D.W.” Yarbrough

Referred to as “D.W.,” Yarbrough is the New Orleans Provincial of the Society of Jesus and is the leader of the Jesuit mission to Rakhat.

D.W. is from Texas, formerly a Marine, and, unknown to everyone except Anne, gay. D.W.’s humor, knowledge, and leadership skills win him the respect and affection of other members of the mission.

Jean-Claude Jaubert

Jean-Claude Jaubert is Sofia’s broker. Before the Jesuit mission, someone anonymously buys out the remainder of her contract, leaving her a free agent.

Marc Robichaux

Marc Robichaux is a priest of the Society of Jesus, a naturalist, and a member of the mission to Rakhat. Anne dubs him “the quintessential Shy, Cute Guy.”

Marc eventually dies of complications after the hand mutilation procedure, and Emilio blames himself for his death.

Alan Pace

Alan Pace is a musicologist, a Jesuit priest, and a member of the mission to Rakhat. He dies unexpectedly and inexplicably shortly after their arrival to Rakhat. Anne completes an autopsy, and his body is buried at their initial landing spot.


Askama is the Runa child who acts as interpreter between the residents of Kashan and the Jesuit mission.

Emilio and Askama form a close relationship. Devastatingly, it is Askama whom Emilio mistakenly kills at the end of the novel.

Supaari VaGayjur

Supaari VaGayjur is a middle-class merchant and member of the ruling Jana’ata.

Supaari befriends the Jesuit crew and becomes a useful source of cultural information. In order to gain the right to have his own family, Supaari gives Emilio to Hlavin Kitheri.

Hlavin Kitheri

Hlavin Kitheri is the Reshtar of Galatna, an erotic poet and the Singer who originally inspired the Jesuit mission. Kitheri rapes Emilio repeatedly, and this experience shatters Emilio’s faith in God.