by James Hynes
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Pub Date 09 May 2023 | Archive Date 08 May 2023
HarperCollins Canada, HarperCollins Publishers
For readers who have been moved and overwhelmed by Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, Sparrow tells the story of Jacob, son of no one, last survivor of an abandoned British Roman town. Raised in a brothel on the Spanish coast in the waning years of the Roman Empire, a boy of no known origin creates his own identity. He is Sparrow, who sings without reason and can fly from trouble. His world is a kitchen, the herb-scented garden, then the loud and dangerous tavern, and finally the mysterious upstairs where the ‘wolves’ - prostitutes of every ethnic background from the far reaches of the empire - do their mysterious business. When not being told stories by his beloved ‘mother’ Euterpe, he runs errands for her lover the cook, while trying to avoid the blows of their brutal overseer or the machinations of the chief wolf, Melpomene. A hard fate awaits Sparrow, one that involves suffering, murder, mayhem, and the scattering of the little community that has been his whole world.
Through meticulous research and bold imagination, Hynes brings the entirety of the Roman city of Carthago Nova - its markets, temples, taverns of the lowly and mansions of the rich - to vivid life. You will feel you have been to this place, and understand how a slave class - conquered people of every age, walk of life, or skin colour - made the brutal empire function.
Sparrow recreates a lost world of the last of old pagan Rome as its codes and morals give way before the new religion of Christianity, and introduces readers to one of the most powerfully affecting and memorable characters of recent fiction.