The Sparrow
by Mary Doria Russell
Discussed September 2004

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell


by Brenda Krekeler

The Sparrow
by Mary Doria Russell

December 7, 2059 Emilio Sandoz was released from the isolation ward of Salvator Mundi Hospital and taken to a Jesuit residence near the Vatican.  He was the sole survivor of the first Jesuit mission to Rakhat.

Emilio suffered from scurvy, anemia and exhaustion.  He couldn’t tolerate a closed door.  Vincenzo Giuliani, 60 years old, the Father General of the Society of Jesus had gone to school with Emilio to become priests.  Emilio’s age now is only 36 as a result of his space travel to Rakhat.  It took six months to reach Rakhat but seventeen years passed on Earth.  So, Father General Vincenzo Giuliani, one year younger than Emilio is sixty years old now.  He is now responsible for the recuperation of Father Emilio Sandoz, his school classmate.  Emilio looks much older than his thirty-six years due to his illnesses and his condition with his hands.

When Emilio returned from Rakhat by himself, the Jesuits had received a radio message about Emilio from members of the second mission sent to Rakhat.  Seventeen years ago they stated Emilio was found on Rakhat with his hands severed between each finger to his wrist.  They identified him as a murderer and reported that Emilio was working as a whore.

Father General Giuliani knew he needed special help for Emilio and sent for John Candotti from Chicago.

Father Johannes Voelker worked directly for the Father General.  Voelker believes the worst about Emilio and was the harshest critic Emilio had to deal with during his recovery.

Father General saw Emilio wasn’t improving and decided to take Emilio, Edward Behr, Emilio’s care giver and John Candotti to Naples where it would be quiet and more peaceful for Emilio’s recovery.

Jimmy Quinn worked at Arecibo, Puerto Rico.  This is where Jimmy discovered the music.

Cleveland, Ohio:  August 2014 – May 2015.  Emilio came from the Sudan directly to Cleveland.  Here he continued his work for the Jesuits with Sofia Mendes, a beautiful, indentured servant.  He was to teach her how he learned different languages so quickly.  Anne was a Latin student of Emilio’s.  She invited him home where he met her husband George and they became an instant family.

Dalton Wesley Yarbrough rescued Emilio as a child from the slums of Puerto Rico.  Yarbrough told Emilio he was being sent to San Juan.  Emilio called Anne and George from San Juan and asked them to come work with him.  Anne was a medical doctor and George was an extremely talented engineer.  They, at sixty-five years of age, accepted.

Sofia Mendes was hired to work with Jimmy Quinn to test their AI software at Arecibo.

Jimmy had become friends with Emilio and when Anne and George arrived they became his extended family as well.  Jimmy introduced Sofia to Anne and Sophia was loved by Anne and George.  There was some friction between Jimmy, Emilio and Sophia.  Jimmy saw how perfect Emilio and Sophia were for each other.  Emilio was dedicated to his faith and Jimmy waited patiently.

August 3, 2019, Jimmy called Anne at 4:00 a.m.  He had all of them come to the observatory.  They all heard the music.

As the news spread a powerful idea was budding. Emilio and his extended family decided to go seek the music makers.  The mission was sponsored by the Jesuits.  There were many obstacles but miraculously the complex issues were resolved.  Everyone, particularly Emilio, believed the mission was a message from God.

In 2021, virtually two years after Jimmy’s discovery the group left earth with three additional members.  Alan Pace, the musician, Marc Robichaux, a biologist/artist and D.W. Yarbrough.  D.W. was the leader of the mission.  They traveled in a huge asteroid, the Stella Maris.

In six months they reached the system which was the source of the beautiful music.  Landfall on Rakhat was October 13, 2039 earth-relative time.

Once landed on the planet they choose an isolated forest where they could become acclimated to the new world’s eco-system and food.  The first few weeks were filled with wonder for everyone.

One morning D.W. went to wake Alan but instead found him dead.  With an autopsy performed by Anne, there was no determination of cause of death.

Soon the group made contact with the locals, the Runa.  They were welcomed into their living quarters, caves really.  Emilio was assigned the child Askama to teach Emilio their language and for Emilio to teach her English.  She was a beautiful child with the Runa double-irised eyes and soft fur covering her body.  Within weeks Emilio understood their Ruanja language with the exception of some cultural implications including gender.

D.W. became extremely ill and consequently dehydrated.  Anne didn’t think he would survive the night but the fever broke and he was better.  Unfortunately, he never returned to his robust health.

Supaari VaGayjur lived in the city of Gayjur.  His species was not Runa but Jana’ata.  He was among the three percent of Rakhat’s population with the Runa making up the other ninety-seven percent.  He was the respectable Jana’ata of Gayjur.  Supaari was a third child and as such was not permitted to have children unless he received permission.  He found his success in being a trader and he made a great fortune.  He knew the language of the Runa and used this knowledge to parlay fabulous investments with amazingly high return.

Marc and Sophia took the light flyer back to their base.  They crashed.  Once they regained consciousness they determined to fly the lander back to their new camp after Sophia’s thirty minutes of test flying.  She and Marc returned to camp broken and beaten up.  The Runa were gone to pick flowers so there was no problem with scaring them with their flying machine.

Once back, D.W., sadly informed everyone that between George’s dare-devil antics with the lander and Sophia’s test flight, there wasn’t enough fuel to return to the Stella Maris for their trip home.  Immediately, George started working on developing a formula to make additional fuel.

Marc and Sophia spent their days sleeping and recovering.  One day the entire group trooped out to their lander for some food and while they were playing music and bantering joyfully, Emilio was attacked by Supaari.  Emilio suppressed his giant attacker.  Since Supaari knew the Runa language he was able to communicate with everyone.  Supaari had found the source of coffee for which he had been searching.

Anne and Supaari became quick friends.  Supaari stayed with them for several weeks.  It was the mission’s second year on Rakhat.  After Supaari left, Anne explained that Chaypas is Askama’s mother, not her father.  The role of the females is to take care of business and the males take care of the children.  Their pregnancies are very short.

Supaari visited the Jesuit party throughout their second year on Rakhat and the mission members wrote up many interviews and sent them to their computer and on to Rome.

One and one-half Rakhati years after their arrival, Supaari told them he had devised a way to take them to Kashan.

Marc, Jimmy and George were whisked into Suparri’s mansion at night.  They traveled the city at night with Supaari’s Runa secretary Awijan.  They saw Runa everywhere.  The Runa were not startled by their presence.  The group witnessed the night life as only Runa’s can see at night.  The Jana’ata cannot see at night.  The small group saw the underbelly of Kashan.

Marc wanted to see their art and music.  The city was industrial and filled with shops but no schools.

Supaari took Marc for a tour in an enclosed buggy.  During the day the Jana’ata were everywhere dressed in lavish robes.  They were similar to the Runa but looked wolfish and unapproachable.  Runa made way and bowed to the Jana’ata.

Supaari took Marc to an isolated stone building.  Supaari had it cleared so Marc could see the art.

Marc smelled incense; saw six plain-robed Jana’ata and a large bowl of colorless liquid.  The six Jana’ata were chanting a poem and dipping their stylus-like talons into the colorless liquid.  This produced a splendid array of colors and changing patterns.  Marc was drugged by the intoxication of the music, colors and incense.  He remembered little of this experience.  He did remember a public square where three Runa were executed by Jana’ata using their talons to slice their throats.

Upon their return to Kashan, Emilio and Sofia met their boat.  They received the news that Anne and D.W. had been attacked and were dead.  Supaari told them it was not wild animals but Djanada.  They are Jana’ata who are killers who live with no home.  Also known as VaHaptaa – murderers and criminals.        

Emilio and Sophia found them.  Emilio dug the graves, and they gathered their parts and placed them in a tarp and buried them.

During their time with the Runa the mission members planted gardens.  Soon the Runa began gardening.  As a result with more food there were more pregnancies.  The unauthorized breeding brought the Jana’ata police and they killed the Runa and their children.  The humans were placed in the center of the group for protection.  Everyone on the mission was killed except for Marc and Emilio.

Supaari eventually found Marc and Emilio.  He took them to his home.  There Emilio and Marc’s fingers were cut down to their wrists.  Marc bled to death.  Emilio was in shock for days.  After Emilio had recovered somewhat he functioned as a linguist for Supaari.  Then Supaari told Emilio other arrangements had been made for him.  “…more suited to his nature.”

Emilio found himself in a whorehouse with real jewels and costly perfume.  At first he thought he was in a zoo.  There were very kind Runa with him and they helped care for his hands.  Emilio saw other species he did not recognize.  There was also the sterile Jana’ata in another area.  Once trapped in the whorehouse, Emilio received little food.

A month after captivity, Emilio was taken to meet Hlavin Kitheri.  Emilio thought he was brought to the Reshtar to share his love for his God and to understand the beautiful music.  He believed God had brought him to Hlavin Kitheri.

As Kitheri walked around the nude Emilio, he scratched bleeding claw marks on Emilio.  Supaari asked Kitheri if he was satisfied.  Kitheri told Supaari, “Yes, and you many now have children.”

Supaari left and Kitheri proceeded to rape Emilio.  Emilio screamed and bleed.  Emilio found the source of the music.  This is where the beautiful music and songs were created by Kitheri.  Emilio’s life became”… divided, into before and after.”

Subsequently Emilio was raped repeatedly and he lost his faith in God.  It was so unbearable for him, he decided the next guard to open his cell, he would attack.  Emilio would rather die or kill than continue this abuse.  And he did so.  The next person that came through his door was Askama.  Emilio put her against the wall.  Her last words were, “You see, Meelo? Your family came for you.  I found you for them.” Askama died.

Emilio was rescued by a team sent to Rakhat from the United Nations, External Affairs Committee.  The UN representatives Wu Xing-Ren and Trevor Isley sent Emilio home on the Stella Maris.  They also sent a radio message seventeen years before Emilio arrived back on earth that described Emilio as a murderer and a whore.  That was the last radio transmission received from the UN representatives.

After many months of recuperation, refitting of new hands, and psychological trauma, Father General got Emilio to explain the events of his mission to Rakhat.  Emilio’s recovery was extremely painful for all involved except Voelker who believed the worst of Emilio until the very end of Emilio’s story.

Emilio Sandoz did recover and he appreciated the Father General’s patience with him.  Father General Giuliani told Emilio he was sending another group to Rakhat and they needed Emilio’s help with languages.

Emilio replied, “It’s too soon, Vince.  I can’t think about that.  It’s too soon.”