by Mary Doria Russell
This was one of the most suspenseful books I'd read in a long time. Emilio Sandoz is the sole survivor of a Jesuit mission to make contact with an alien intelligence. The book follows two timelines - one after Sandoz's return (Sandoz is a complete emotional and physical wreck), and one before and during the mission. It's great writing - At first I was dying to know what happened on the planet, but soon I was just glad to spend time with the characters. The sequel, Children of God, is well done - not as hard-hitting as the original, but more complete.