Book review of ” Origin” by Dan Brown

Review By Dr. Sonal Kalia

Edited by Vipul Murarka
Title :  “a riveting techno-religious drama set in spain!!”
In one of his interviews Dan Brown states that “the problem in making books into movies is that imagination becomes limited. Before the Harry Potter movies every kid who read it had his own version of the wizard hero but after the movies came out every kid imagined the same Daniel Radcliffe face. Books no longer remained open to one’s imagination.” I would agree, as I started imagining tom hanks in a suit within the first few pages of Dan Brown’s latest novel origin. But the other characters I could pick and choose from the vast array of Hollywood’s actors I liked. I could still imagine the next page’s happening or visualise how I would react if I were in the scene. Hence despite the movies, one’s imagination still runs free Mr. Brown!
As an ardent admirer of Dan Brown’s writing my spirits were dampened after reading Inferno but I still bought a copy of origin on the very day of its release hoping for a more positive theme.  Having seen his interview on YouTube I somehow sensed that Sharjah would be featured in the book and it was. Also I thought that the recurrent question of science versus god would be explored in some new way along with the timeless question where do we come from ? “Human creation and human destiny. They are the universal mysteries.” But this book runs much deeper.

The Washington Post , the Telegraph, the Guardian and the New York Times have given very scathing reviews to the book but the real review is in the sales figures and the reception from the masses it is aimed at. The critics even notify Tom Hanks for his upcoming movie shooting in Spain and comment on the book’s formula. The reason for a formula being repeated by someone is that it works. It is a thriller set in a beautiful country with great historical monuments exploring existential questions. History +beautiful architecture + smart damsel in distress + solving codes + controversies + underdog geeky hero overcoming all obstacles despite claustrophobia & the world against him etc = millions of book copies sold along with movie rights.

“In your world of classical art, pieces are revered for the artist’s skill of execution—that is, how deftly he places the brush to canvas or the chisel to stone. In modern art, however, masterpieces are often more about the idea than the execution.“ this insight from the book is a very simple way to explain the concept of modern art to those who are perplexed by it. I liked the way he has approached modern art by making Bilbao museum the starting point for the story. The description of ideas behind modern art is a gateway for people who do not appreciate it perhaps and i for one have added the Guggenheim museum to my bucket list.
On my part, I am fascinated by the historical perspective of monuments and the varied theories Dan Brown shares using Langdon his alter ego perhaps. I do not mind the descriptions about cities and monuments which is what the critics abhor the most in his books. Learning about a place during a story is more interesting than picking up a travel book. I read his books slowly, seeing videos and pictures of the places and reading a bit about them before moving onto the next monument. He moves from monument to monument and city to city solving a puzzle. I am as a reader intrigued by the puzzle as much as by the artwork and passages or poetry shared during the quest. Getting a fresh perspective about works of Nietzsche and William Blake as an interwoven part of the tale makes it deeper than a simple thriller.

Dan Brown steps cautiously into Islam for a brief moment and moves into the familiar territory of Christianity for the rest of the book. He shares the controversies of the Christian world in interesting  plot twists.
I like the manner in which he deals with religious fanaticism subtly and even provides a solution of sorts “that the human mind has the ability to elevate an obvious fiction to the status of a divine fact, and then feel emboldened to kill in its name. He believed that the universal truths of science could unite people—serving as a rallying point for future generations.” “that’s a beautiful idea in principle,which is why Edmond hoped science could one day unify us,” Langdon said. “in his own words: ‘if we all worshiped gravity…”

In making up artificial intelligence as a main character dan brown shows the contentious cusp between present and future possibilities. To quote “assess a machine’s ability to behave in a manner indistinguishable from that of a human” makes it sound achievable. The concept of building intelligence that can be near human but not humane is intriguing and scary both. “the human brain is a binary system—synapses either fire or they don’t—they are on or off, like a computer switch. The brain has over a hundred trillion switches, which means that building a brain is not so much a question of technology as it is a question of scale.“ I wonder if the futuristic upgraded artificial intelligence Winston who puts Siri to shame is being developed somewhere. The “smart damsel in distress solving codes” theme recurs here and i wonder how his novels would fare if the female lead would be a much older married lady of grandmotherly age or may be even a male scientist? Despite the platonic friendship portrayed, a ravishing female lead adds an element of wow definitely. Though stated at a different point in the story ,an author has to tap into basic human tendencies at some point because in Dan Brown’s own words “humans, despite being god’s most sublime creation, were still just animals at the core, their behavior driven to a great extent by a quest for creature comforts & most readers & attention would be drawn to attractive female leads in trouble and in his novels it is beauty with brains.”

There is a tendency to include international characters to get wider audience and an intelligence operative of Indian origin makes an appearance but I hope Dan Brown chooses a better Indian name next time.
I have read all of Dan Brown’s books and my ratings were the highest for the digital fortress followed by Da Vinci Code followed by Origin followed by Deception Point followed by Angels and Demons followed by the Lost Symbol followed by Inferno. I hated the negative themed Inferno the most .

All in all his recent book  “Origin” is a pleasant read and I would rate the plot as 3.5/5 and the writing as 4/5 because I like travel and mystery both and Dan Brown marries them in quite a decent narrative. I also liked the way I was forced to think of technology in the future in myriad hues and not just as an aid to human kind.

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