yoli's Reviews > American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
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's review
Dec 23, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2007
Recommended for: fantasy, sci-fi, religion, and mythology geeks
Read in May, 2007

I need to preface this review with the following statement: THIS IS THE FIRST BOOK I HAVE DEVOURED IN AN OBSCENELY LONG TIME. And it was great!

Part of me has always liked fantasy and sci-fi because there is no pretense of “this is Real Life, but better” because, quite frankly, it can make you think and draw metaphoric critiques but it never makes point-blank critiques about the pathetic nature of your unexciting existence. Or maybe I’m just too sensitive.

American Gods is about . . . gods in America and how America is not a good place for gods. We do not believe. The emphasis is on the non-Abrahamic gods, so basically anything except Jesus (depending on your branch of Christianity) and the God of the Torah, Bible, and Q’ran (in that order!) qualifies. Gaiman’s got Norse gods, Egyptian gods, Indian gods, demons from the Middle East before Muhammad was spoken to by Allah, African gods brought over on slave ships, and more. And they’re all here, in America, languishing because people don’t believe. Gods need worship or they wither and they become almost mortal, in that you can kill them then and they won’t come back.

This is interesting because, as I’ve mentioned, most of the gods are imports, brought over by immigrants both voluntary immigrants and involuntary ones. There are a few purely American gods discussed, but they’re not so much gods as folk heroes. We don’t have indigenous gods, unless you’re counting any Native American spirits which, as is discussed at one point, not the same as a god. Trickster Coyote wasn’t worshiped; Native American gods, like Greek gods, were rather temperamental and fallible in the same way we, as people are. But, even then, there weren’t any all-powerful figures to whom respect had to be paid. They were more semi-powerful imps to be tolerated, not even feared.

So Gaiman proposes gods of technology such as Media who looks beautifully familiar and gives of a faint phosphorous glow. There is a fat kid, socially awkward but technologically brilliant, to whom the dot-com entrepreneurs obviously worshiped. And then, Gaiman proposes war on the basis of a too-short American attention span. Fringe gods risk being pushed out of the way entirely, and new gods, seeing the fate of the predecessors, aspire to maintain their presence in our minds.

It is at this point that my comfort in faraway fantasy is rattled. Because, isn’t it true? Raised without religion in the traditional sense, I have to admit that I don’t really pray and if I do the hardest part is figuring to whom. I’ve sent thoughts do my deceased grandparents, but they’re not gods just protective figures who protect in spirit (harhar) and not body. I don’t have a god to pray to, and if what he’s theorizing has truth (because don’t gods “disappear” when no one believes? so wouldn’t it make sense that our belief is crucial for their existence in an analogous way to food in ours)? I could be the reason that gods die!

There’s one memorable scene where Easter argues that she’s still celebrated. So Wednesday asks the waitress if she celebrates Easter, to which she retorts angrily that she’s a Pagan and doesn’t do any of that Christian stuff. Except, Easter’s got it’s oldest roots in Paganism! The fact that she, as a modern day Pagan, doesn’t know that, means that there is definitely some sort of a gap between what religions once were in the Old World and what they’ve become after crossing the Atlantic.

Aside from the metaphysical and theological implications, Gaiman also explores life vs. death and morality—without turning it into one of the papers I read for my philosophy seminar on God, Freedom, Evil and the co-existence or lack thereof of the three. It was engaging! And Shadow was a good protagonist. Overall, a great reintroduction into fiction.

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