Book review: Origin by Dan Brown

“Here comes the new Brown, same as the old Brown”.

*Spoilers below*

Origin is the fifth novel featuring the most famous Semiotician in the world, professor Robert Langdon.

The novel is set in Spain, and ranges from the Guggenheim in Bilbao, through Barcelona to the Royal Palace in Madrid.

A former student of Langdon, Edmond Kirsch is now a billionaire Futurist, and is hosting an event at the Guggenheim that will unveil a discovery that will destroy the foundations of the Abrahamic religions. Naturally he invites his old mentor.

Guess what – spoiler alert – Kirsch gets assassinated, and Langdon finds himself on the run with the stunning Ambra Vidal – museum director and fiancée of the prince of Spain.

Cue lots of hidden historical facts, and religious extremists, all related at the layman level, and the template that has brought Brown such success is complete. Clue after clue falls to the intrepid duo, puzzling as they do over Nietzsche, Blake, the artist Miro, and various famous sites in Spain. They get helpful dig-outs from Winston, a super-AI computer with attitude.

The story is typical Brown, building up the tension through potentially plausible historical proofs, enigmatic cryptograms, cliff-hanger moments, and magniloquent prose, while hoping to court controversy on the way. The reader knows what they are going to get, and by and large they get it.

For the fans, they will love Origin. It is an entertaining read, great for an airport terminal, but the potential of the story is, for me, not fully realised. The reveal(s) fell flat, and not as controversy-inducing as his previous outings. Airplane fodder.

Happy new year everyone! This review is a guest post by fellow bookworm Sean. Visit his book blog for more excellent reviews.

Today is also your last chance to download my ebook ‘This Really Happened’ for free on amazon. Please take a look! 

 

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Book Review: Stick Out Your Tongue by Ma Jian

I don’t know where to start. This book is fascinating, perverse, gritty and realistic, though it  probably falls more into the magical realism genre. I don’t really know how to classify it or describe it other than ‘strange’ but in a good way.

The book is essentially a short memoir of Ma Jian’s travels through Tibet, with a fictional twist. He dives into the stories of the locals he meets on the way, infusing his charismatic writing style with a stunning insight into human nature.

The Tibet he introduces us to is a dark place, a region ravaged by conflict and the Chinese government’s brutal campaign against it’s unique way of life. He completely destroys the fantasy that Tibet is a spiritual haven, free of corruption and sin. In his short stories men sleep with their mothers and daughters, a woman who died in childbirth is hacked to pieces and fed to vultures in a sky burial, and a young girl dies in a frozen river during a Buddhist initiation rite.

His stories are not pleasant to read, nor do they end happily. There is no satisfying conclusion at the end of them; they’re just a mosaic of different lives, all connected by the physical and cultural setting of Tibet. Ma Jian is a brave writer. He’s unafraid of shying away from the truth, no matter how gruesome and horrid it may be. Through his vivid descriptions he recreates his own authentic experience of Tibet as a region being suffocated by the tight grip of religion, corruption and political upheaval.

As he explains in the afterward, “westerners idealise Tibetans as gentle, godly people untainted by base desires and greed. But in my experience, Tibetans can be as corrupt and as brutal as the rest of us. To idealise them is to deny their humanity.” Perhaps that is the most important lesson of this book. To romanticise another culture and its people is a form of self-delusion, one that leads to stereotyping and wrong assumptions.

Another interesting fact about this book is that it was actually banned in China, which of course led to it becoming incredibly popular on the black market as it had the appeal of the forbidden! Ma Jian later moved to the U.K and currently lives in London with his wife who is also the translator of his books.

I would highly recommend this book, and Ma Jian’s other travel memoir ‘Red Dust’. He writes about China with a chilling honesty that makes him, in my opinion at least, one of the most interesting Chinese writers alive today.

Who’s your favourite Chinese writer? Comment below!