American Gods

There are many ways to choose a book. You can rely on recommendations from friends. You can follow a review. The best way is to visit a book store and rummage the books, read a few pages or let the cover art get you. Or maybe it’s some movie – or TV show – that convinces you to some specific book.

When I saw “American Gods” the first time on some big streaming channel in 2017, I didn’t know that it is based on some book. “Another fantasy series”, I thought. Though I love that genre and have some interest in mythology and ancient gods it was no question, that I‘ll watch it, and as I read the literary base had been written by Neil Gaiman, I knew I would buy it. It took only two years to do so. Faster than building the Berlin airport.

Concerning gods

“American Gods” – that’s what the author promises to write about. But as omnipresent gods are even nowadays the question remains, if there ARE American gods. Ancient Maya and Inca surely had their gods. But in north America? I have some doubts.

So it is no real wonder, that it’s the old gods of Europe, Africa and Asia, that rule the story, gods who had been dragged to America over thousands of years and were forgotten. Gods who are remembered only in old tales and become more and more displaced by new gods, the gods of entertainment and money. Finally, the book says (though not in word), mankind hadn’t been made by gods. The gods were made by humankind.

Indeed it seems to be logical. Men prayed to some Odin guy brought sacrifices and that way Odin came to life. As Leif, son of Eric, came to Newfoundland he brought his gods with him, worshiped him and when he left, something oft hat gods remained behind – be it just some picture on some shard.

As Columbus discovered America (again) in 1492, he brought his Christian god with him and it is said, this god still roams Texas. As in those past days still men define what said god would like and what not, assume someone is president through Gods mercy, no matter if God wants or not.

So it is all too logical, that all people brought their own gods to America. The Indians (meaning the people from India) brought Ganesha as well as Kali. Slaves out of Africa had their gods and when it comes to writing about all those gods, it seems Neil Gaiman’s way is the only one fitting. Where else should all those ancient gods meet than in America, a country and a continent that is shaped by immigrants like no other in this world. Should they meet here in Germany? Italy? Switzerland, China or Russia? No, America is the only neutral ground. None of those gods is originated there.

So how do you picture such neutral ground? Mr. Gaiman simply summons everybody of rank and name and even some I’ve never heard of before. I knew neither of Czernobog nor of the three Zoryas before. Still they are no invention of the writer. The black god existed as well in Slavic mythology as the goddesses of the heavens. Just the tale of their coming to America comes from the author’s fantasy. Cleverly Neil Gaiman doesn’t tell those origin stories himself. He gives that task to Thot, the scribe of the ancient Egyptian gods. But then again that’s nearly all the Ibis headed god does.

The gods actually have no big part in the story at all. It’s more a kind of “road movie”, Shadow Moon in its centre, a man just released from prison, taking a job that leads him directly into the maelstrom of the events which shall culminate in the great war between the new an the old gods. Will this simple man save the day?

Concerning the telling

I don’t know how it is with you, but whenever I read a book knowing a movie based on it, I have some expectations. I can’t tell you any reason though in general those expectations are not served. I’m not disappointed, please do not misunderstand me. It is only that I – despite knowing better – expect that the books reads as the movie looks. Kinda stupid, isn’t it?

Reading “American Gods” is no blockbuster cinema. There’s no gigantic armies clashing together every five minutes, no big explosions every 35th page. On the contrary. The book reads quite calm. Even a pub brawl gets despite black eyes and broken furniture seemingly not out of control. The story follows Shadow from one place to the next and the reader is kept in the dark concerning Mr. Wednesdays plans as is his employee.

The story of the American gods is the tale of man on the run. But Shadow doesn’t hurry through the states. He is sent here or brought there and from time to time Neil Gaiman sets some dramatic accent by letting the bad guys get there hands on Shadow or sending some law enforcer on him. The author promises in his foreword to describe only places, he has visited himself. Not knowing the United States in detail I checked it with Google. Mr. Gaiman kept word.

With all those breaks (NOT DESPITE all those breaks) Shadow is taking during his journey, Mr. Gaiman builds up more and more tension. Once you’re in the book, you cannot leave it until the story reaches its… well, its surprising end. Its surprisingly simple end. But that simple solution fits absolutly an explaines everything that happens on the first 572 page (German edition, Director’s Cut).

All that happens with easy words. Neil Gaiman doesn’t use complicated sentences, he avoids all to detailed descriptions of the grass around, is not telling the story the Tolkien way, as I use to say. By this you get through the book fast. The story doesn’t let you go and the easy writing gets quickly to the end.

Story:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
Style:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Reading fun:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Average:4.2 out of 5 stars (4.2 / 5)

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