American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This was my first foray into the world of Neil Gaiman, and the reason I’m now a giant fan and seek out more of his books whenever I can.

I enjoyed American Gods immensely. It gets major points just for its incredibly creative and well-executed storyline: in American Gods, Gaiman examines what happens when immigrants came to America from all over the world, bringing their gods with them. I’m talking about the old gods, here – modern religions like Christianity, Judaisim, and Islam are barely mentioned. In Gaiman’s version of the story, the gods are real and physical, and once they are brought to America by someone’s belief in them, they are there to stay. But what happens when people stop believing in them? That’s the basic premise of this book: the old gods are still among us, and they aren’t quite sure what to do with themselves. They cannot die naturally, but they can be killed – and many have been, either by their own hand or someone else’s. The ones that remain wander aimlessly, working as prostitutes and undertakers and grocery store clerks. But as the old gods struggle to exists, new gods are coming into being. Media, the Internet, Television – these are the American gods, and they want the old gods out. A human man, called Shadow, is recruited to help the old gods in their fight.

It’s hard to explain, as you can see. So here, have some quotes from the book.

Told to Shadow by Loki: “You got to understand the god thing. It’s not magic. It’s about being you, but the you that people believe in. It’s about being the concentrated, magnified, essence of you. It’s about becoming thunder, or the power of a running horse, or wisdom. You take all the belief and become bigger, cooler, more than human. You crystallize. …And then one day they forget about you, and they don’t believe in you, and the next thing you know you’re running a three-card monte game on the corner of Broadway and Forty-third.”

“None of this is actually happening. If it makes you more comfortable, you could simply think of it as a metaphor. Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you – even perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs over all opposition.
Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.”

And then, just because I liked it and because it struck me as oddly significant, here’s the introduction to the book:

“Caveat, and Warning for Travelers:
This is a work of fiction, not a guidebook. While the geography of the United States of America in this tale is not entirely imaginary – many of the landmarks in this book can be visited, paths can be followed, ways can be mapped – I have taken liberties. Fewer liberties than you might imagine, but liberties nonetheless.
Permission has neither been asked nor given for the use of real places in this story when they appear: I expect that the owners of Rock City or the House on the Rock, and the hunters who own the motel in the center of America, are as perplexed as anyone to find their properties in here.
I have obscured the location of several of the places in this book: the town of Lakeside, for example, and the farm with the ash tree an hour south of Blacksburg. You may look for them if you wish. You might even find them.
Furthermore, it goes without saying that all of the people, living, dead, and otherwise in this story are fictional or used in a fictional context. Only the gods are real.”

Verdict: four out of five stars

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1 Comment

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One response to “American Gods by Neil Gaiman

  1. I bought this when I was thirteen and was utterly stunned by the opening chapter. It remains one of my favorite novels, and I’m still blown away by how the British Gaiman seems to nail the soul of America. They’ve recently put out a full cast audiobook, which I need to get my hands on…

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