I Am Not Hispanic
March 12, 2015 5:35 PM   Subscribe

I Am Puerto Rican "The Sparrow, a novel by Mary Doria Russell, has as its protagonist Father Emilio Sandoz, a brilliant Puerto Rican linguist who is of Taino and Spanish background. The Sparrow is one of my all-time favorite books, and Emilio Sandoz is one of my favorite characters, and one with whom I identify closely. Not to take away from the novel, which I think tells an incredible story, but the fact that the portion of the novel that takes place on Earth takes place in Puerto Rico, and that the main character is Puerto Rican is part of why I love it so much. Finally, someone who looks like me."
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 (27 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
A great and heartbreaking book. I'm sure for a reread, I think...
posted by lumensimus at 5:47 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I had no idea Brad Pitt wanted to play Emilio. The Sparrow is probably the most precious book in the world to me, and that is just such a misinterpretation on so many levels (the most obvious being the racist assumption that a white man could play Meelo).
posted by c'mon sea legs at 6:02 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Sparrow is on my list of "books I do NOT want to see adapted". I can't imagine Hollywood could do it without ruining it.
posted by Lexica at 6:13 PM on March 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


I force dear friends to read The Sparrow.

Emilio is an amazing character.
posted by entropone at 6:23 PM on March 12, 2015


Such a wonderful book and yeah - Brad Pitt??!! no way!
posted by leslies at 6:25 PM on March 12, 2015


I really loved that book. It's too bad about the sequel.
posted by jeather at 6:27 PM on March 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


My book group has been going for over 20 years and this is still one of our all time favorites. Can't imagine how many people I have recommended it to. It's where I first encountered the quote from Aeschylus: "In our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God." Nice to see another route to its appreciation here. Puerto Rico and its culture seemed like a minor character in itself running thru the novel.
posted by sapere aude at 6:55 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lovely essay.

I cannot even imagine a mainstream Hollywood film handling The Sparrow at all well.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:08 PM on March 12, 2015


I can't imagine anyone of the level of Brad Pitt allowing himself to be portrayed as Emilio is in that novel. They would want to remove the plot elements which make the novel so completely devastating, and turn it into a feel-good redemption story.

I love how thoroughly Russell condemns the travellers with the phrase: They meant no harm.
posted by suelac at 10:53 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have real problems with The Sparrow; on the one hand I can see why people find it their favourite or most thought provoking book, on the other hand it's still a book that revolves around a certain idea about rape I don't think is healthy or all that interesting and it feels as if this is pretending to be much more profound and smart than it actually is.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:04 AM on March 13, 2015


What idea is that, MartinWisse? Genuinely curious.
posted by lumensimus at 12:34 AM on March 13, 2015


jeather, is the sequel worth a miss? I read the Sparrow for the first time, last year, and was considering seeking out the sequel. Is this going to be a Dune thing, where I would be better off not doing that?
posted by X-Himy at 6:43 AM on March 13, 2015


Some people liked the sequel. I thought it took away from the first book in a lot of ways and added this weird DNA plot that just made no sense and -- I don't know, I think it was a massively unsuccessful book.
posted by jeather at 6:50 AM on March 13, 2015


This thread just in a roundabout way led me to the knowledge that there is a prog-rock concept album based on The Sparrow. Because of course there is.

I love this book dearly, and Puerto Rico definitely feels like an integral part of the story to me - any remake that fails to get that would really be missing something fundamental. The sequel, eh, is okay? But is pretty much pristine on my shelf while The Sparrow falls apart from frequent re-reading.
posted by Stacey at 6:51 AM on March 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


What a wonderful, tragic book. From the very first page, you know that all of the characters you are about to meet except one are all dead (so no, that's not a spoiler), which adds an extra layer of sadness to the book.

While I think Brad Pitt would have been a horrible choice, I would be interested to see what someone like Guillermo del Toro could do with it.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:05 AM on March 13, 2015


Oh, and I read the sequel but I honestly don't remember anything about it.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:05 AM on March 13, 2015


My book group has been going for over 20 years and this is still one of our all time favorites.

On MeFi's recommendation, I forced The Sparrow upon my book club (I was looking for an easy-in sci-fi book, since we tended to avoid most genre fiction). They all groaned and complained at the thought, but then when we met the next month one of them declared her utmost apologies and has since gone on to evangelize it to others. It really does strike unexpected chords.

(Also, I'd been to see San Juan for the first time a couple of months before reading it, and damned if it didn't evoke Puerto Rico satisfyingly.)

I would be interested to see what someone like Guillermo del Toro could do with it.

I totally read this as "Benicio Del Toro" and was immediately up in arms about how wrong he would be for Emilio, lacking all the vivacity the character demands. But I don't know if any actor with the right stature and look could come close. Maaaaybe John Leguizamo.
posted by psoas at 8:40 AM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I find that a lot of the philosophical and theological ruminations in The Sparrow - particularly the Earthbound scenes - are very inauthentic and read like the author clubbing the reader with "the message."

But, I still love this book. For all the flaws I find in the world, The Sparrow has some of the most organic, honest, and authentic characters I've read in any work of literature, genre or otherwise. All of the personalities in that book are alive and human in a way that I have rarely seen elsewhere.
posted by absalom at 8:46 AM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Those who didn't care for or had had problems with the book, could you expand a little on what your issues were? This isn't an attack; I'd really like to hear your perspective, since I've only seen universal acclaim for it.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:07 AM on March 13, 2015


The sequel, Children of God, is necessary to fully understand what happens in The Sparrow.

In short: gardening.
posted by jammy at 11:25 AM on March 13, 2015


Oh no, someone mentioned Emilio Sandoz and now I'm tearing up just thinking about him.

I love the Sparrow, and have been known to go back and read only the happy parts. It's a really difficult book and I don't recommend it to most people. But that scene with Emilio first starting to learn the language of the Runa, so happy and thinking "I was born for this," oh man. That moment is one of my favorites in any book.
posted by a hat out of hell at 12:03 PM on March 13, 2015


I totally read this as "Benicio Del Toro" and was immediately up in arms about how wrong he would be for Emilio, lacking all the vivacity the character demands. But I don't know if any actor with the right stature and look could come close. Maaaaybe John Leguizamo.

Ha! No. Actually, I can't think of anyone "famous" who could pull off Sandoz, but I'm sure there's a Taino actor out there who could do him justice. I have a very clear picture of Emilio in my head -- rather small and unassuming.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:18 PM on March 13, 2015


Hmm, quick look through lists of Puerto Rican actors...maybe Freddy Rodriguez?
posted by sapere aude at 2:41 PM on March 13, 2015


Freddy Rodriguez is definitely too pale and too young-looking. I also considered David Zayas, but he's still a not-quite.
posted by psoas at 3:15 PM on March 13, 2015


The skin color of Puerto Ricans varies widely -- check out Isabel Schecter's photo in the link above.

When our SF book group read The Sparrow, we were struck how much more seriously Emilio's rape experiences were handled than Sophia's. She was forced to prostitute herself to survive and pay for her education; she's clearly as well-educated, smart, and important to the expedition. We found it an unsettling imbalance: "raped woman is nothing new, raped man is DRAMA."

I am not saying "all sex work is rape"--this is in a postwar context where an orphaned preteen has no other choices.
posted by Jesse the K at 8:06 AM on March 14, 2015




Those who didn't care for or had had problems with the book, could you expand a little on what your issues were?

Warning for spoilers (for both books) and sexual violence below:

I really loved the book, but it does have issues. The characters, for one thing, are just... too. They're so perfectly wonderful and lovable, and they quote from The Princess Bride and Monty Python and so forth, and they are just such perfect stand-ins for the reader.

And then what happens to Emilio has multiple problems. One is that it's just Too Much. It's over-the-top degradation and angst, melodrama at its most melodramatic. The whole business is a very clear indicator that Russell imprinted on Dorothy Dunnett (who does much the same kind of thing to her characters), and her edited didn't succeed in toning it down.

The second thing is what MartinWisse alluded to upthread: what happens to Emilio is horrible, yes, but it's both horrible to him because he's a man, and horrible to the reader because he's a man. The mutilation and the murder are both secondary to the rapes in bringing Emilio down to the utter despair he finds himself in, and the impact of the rapes on both character and reader is bound up in the fact that Emilio is male.

If what happened to Emilio had happened to Sophia instead, we the readers would be more horrified at the mutilation than the rapes. Or so I parse it.

I loved the book when I first read it, but over time I've become a bit disenchanted with the self-indulgent melodrama of it. And the second book makes me grind my teeth: it didn't need to be written, and if it did need to be written, did we honestly need the Mafia to kidnap Emilio to make the plot happen? Seriously, the MAFIA.

There was good stuff in the second book--all the anthropological explanations for why things on the planet went as they did--but holy crap, the kidnapping and the unexpected survival of Sophia cut the suspenders of my disbelief.
posted by suelac at 2:20 PM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


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