The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Well of course it isn’t as grand as The Da Vinci Code, but it is a worthy sequel to trouble Robert Langdon from the confines of Harvard. Dan Brown’s novels, especially The Da Vinci Code, dabble with people’s doubt and feed them a page-turning storyline with mouth-watering pieces of, usually historic, information. And such quality indubitably exists with the latest release, The Lost Symbol.

Author: Dan Brown
Released: 2009

America’s clandestine, undying accounts of certain doings of the Masonic brothers have gone beyond their shores. Evidently, ancient stories of their involvement in the shaping of American history are popular ‘over-the-coffee’ discussions, auditorium-worthy talks, even for non-Americans—if it weren’t, Doubleday wouldn’t have published The Lost Symbol internationally and National Treasure would’ve crashed and burned in cinemas outside American soil. Yes, The Lost Symbol toys with the same line with National Treasure, but in an entirely different arena—more convoluted and pleasurably vexing.

A madman, whose entire persona is deeply immersed among the characters, will try to unravel the secret of the Free Masons. His audacious plan is not to reveal a thousand-years-old mystery to the world but to digest its surreptitious totality and greedily destroy and obliterate its existence. Definitely a madman, but wise enough to know that he does not know how to decipher and find reason, logic, meaning with the enigmatic messages ‘hidden in plain sight’. His solution is to find someone who can, dragging Robert Langdon in the middle of the CIA, the Free Masons and possibly ending the world as we know it—a famous theory about an apocalypse in 2012.

Reading Experience
Brown once again throws, or rather re-throws, a concept debated between the most intellectual believers and skeptics—the power of thought, the use of the brain’s untapped potentials. Langdon’s viewpoint in all this is one of a skeptic who plays along with the madman’s belief, aiming to save Peter Solomon, a friend and a Mason—and proprietor of the key to unlock the bridge between science and faith.
Though it is nowhere near the achievement, attention and reception that The Da Vinci Code got,—but I don’t think it was intended to surpass its predecessor—The Lost Symbol is a thrilling read in its own way. I finished the book in three days because it was hard to put down.
Brown ends chapters with undeniably effective cliffhangers. His brand of storytelling is clear of confusion on whose eyes are you seeing from. He starts paragraphs with the name, or in reference to the character, of the person who will be joined by the audience, adequately placing the reader as part of the scene.
Authors will have a formula that they are comfortable with. Brown is not an exception. But this time, the equation is quite different from Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code. Good news right? Perhaps adding up to the novel’s unpredictability, a change in formula but not with pace. 
And, as usual, the book is well-researched, from the facts amidst the fiction, down to the minute detail of architectural masterpieces in Washington D.C. vividly described for a more precise imagined tour, or better yet, reader experience. 
I honestly started reading The Lost Symbol with much skepticism—but I did keep an open mind as the pages I’ve read become thicker. Moreover, I felt like a fortune-teller attempting to spoil the rest of the plot by identifying Dan Brown’s foreshadowing and habitually muttering a turn of event before I get to the next page. I owe this behavior to my reading of Angels and Demons first then The Da Vinci Code which is how I noticed Dan Brown’s formula. And the same observation from another book lover, who has read Digital Fortress and Deception Point, did not mitigate such attitude. 

Well I am still a skeptic when I finished it. But I did question certain ideologies that the book divulged and even researched them, quite a desirable trait for a novel, to make readers more interested with history. More importantly, I was only capable of spoiling insignificant bits of the storyline, except for one essential part—but I leave that to the reader’s eye. 

In Conclusion
In a nutshell, Dan Brown’s formula has changed, for the better. And his dexterity in writing remains nifty and inventive, resourceful would also be an appropriate appraisal. With a gripping storyline, and a fascinating perspective on Noetic science and, again, biblical role, The Lost Symbol is definitely the sum of a desirable reading equation—an enjoyable read ‘not’ hidden, and in plain sight.


Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Friday, November 20, 2009

Survival supersedes beliefs, principles, and even morals. The malleability of the latter concepts—that defines character and persona, distinguishes man’s social strata, class and leverage in the society he lives in—against a person’s will to live is explicitly painted in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.

Author: Yann Martel
Released: 2006
Man Booker Prize of 2002
Soon to be a major motion picture

Pi Patel,16, consistently deals with bashful versions of his name, a battle well-fought but eventually pointless and miniscule against a shipwreck, which he survived, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Migrating from India to Canada due to his father’s political and economic weather forecast initiated a chain of tortuous scenes that slowly stripped Pi off of his religious convictions, yes it’s in plural, his morality, his diet preference, but not his human drive and instinct to survive. And of course, Pi’s belief in God–after all it was a story intended to make Yann Martel believe in God.
Pi seeks survival on a lifeboat, with no means to propel himself anywhere, or even a direction to propel himself to, bathing in the scorching heat of unfiltered and uncensored sun rays, surrounded by an ocean of undrinkable salt water, 360 degrees visual range of vast nothing, and an adult carnivorous, not to mention hungry, Bengal tiger sharing occupancy with him in the lifeboat. With a ludicrous plan worked out—survive with the tiger—Pi sets his plan into motion, a plan dictated more by thirst and hunger.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel book coverReading Experience

Martel begins Pi’s story, which won the Man Booker Prize Award for Fiction by the way, by throwing statements to readers for them to ponder on. Reading Life of Pi has effects similar to having a good conversation with a friend but it would be with a book and your self, though this sounds insane or needing a psych consult, it’s just that the points are interesting enough to spark an internal argument—one that you cannot hold in and you just need to discuss to another being, hopefully someone you’re familiar with, and not a Bengal tiger.
Perhaps unknowingly, or maybe not, Martel dictates his alpha-male trait or authority along with Pi’s introduction. If not for Pi’s dialogues, it would seem that you’re reading an article straight from a National Geographic journal—a vital and most crucial inclusion in the entire stretch of the plot.
Eventually, the seemingly ‘one-chapter-a-day’ book speeds up the tempo, transporting the reader right there between Pi and Richard Parker, the tiger whose name is an allusion to an Edgar Allan Poe character. Martel’s descriptions are enough to satiate imaginative hunger. At times the situation might drag but this is momentary and  sublimates as the storytelling picks up pace again.
When Pi finally reaches land, a feeling of relief may be felt but the tone of finality, you’ll realized has been given when Martel has interviewed the older Pi living in Toronto, Canada. Because land, and finally conversing with other humans, seems to be stranger, unnatural and more unacceptable than life at sea with a tiger and other sea creatures. Its ending poses questions of what is moral, what is believable, what is real and what is undesirable.

In Conclusion
The final pages has an overwhelming influence to reread the previous chapters, resisting would be up to the reader—I did resist. But one thing’s for sure, Martel just can’t stop taunting your intellectual muscle until the last page—even when you close the book.


Waiting by Ha Jin

Monday, November 9, 2009

Life is consistently and habitually measured by numbers; anniversaries with a partner, months left until the New Year, weeks until payday, days of work, hours spent on sleeping, heartbeats per minute and seconds that could be the difference between life and death. Concepts of living and time are almost indistinguishable, feasible but cumbersome to determine one from the other except for their exclusive feats.

Author: Ha Jin
Released: 1999
1999 National Book Award

Time is depicted by numbers—an endless counting, dying of boredom from such a simple, but unpalatable, task is highly probable. While living your life is permitting time to unsuccessfully attempt and foolishly exhaust itself until its existence would only matter when you pause—and take the brave gesture of looking back to the things that were and the you that was. 
Cliché statements would depict “Living your life” in all the forms of achieving elation and doing jovial actions. There is no argument about the presence of the harrowing weight on the other end of the scale. It is a dilemma to say some or most, but probably all, of us, are dealing or have dealt with the difficulties of living our lives.
Perhaps the virtue of hindsight would be the most rueful virtue to possess—when you are rendered incapable and compelled to admit that you’ve lived your life not the way you intended to, and time had gone by, waiting.

This is the message effectively conveyed and nonchalantly depicted in Ha Jin’s Waiting. Lin Kong, an almost-perfect husband-to-be, has flaws that decided how the years of his life will be spent. Shuyu, probably one of the saddest characters I have ever encountered, has been consistently, year-in and year-out like some gloomy tradition, brought to court to be divorced. And each and every year, the verdict is the same, making Lin Kong and Manna Wu, Lin Kong’s ‘true love’ and blatantly but unofficially his mistress, wait for another year.

Reading Experience
Ha Jin’s storytelling prowess is to bring this repetitive and ingeniously simple plot out of brooding boredom. Probably the reason why it won the 1999 National Book Award for Fiction, is its delivery. The plot was plain, and the climax is unusually placed just a few pages away from the middle of the storyline—or maybe what I considered as climactic for the simplicity of the story is maintained to the very end. 
And even the end is auspiciously simplistic, unexpectedly casual and creatively inadvertent. Indeed, less is more. 

In Conclusion 
It’s not a book that you can’t put down. It doesn’t have that quality. Starting to read threateningly translates to not finishing it, at least during the first few chapters, but once you get to feel and understand the characters, you know that you’ll just have to know how it ends. Its end is notable and satisfying. Ha Jin ended the book well, and I respect its finality not because I liked how it ended but because of its brilliant delivery.
Yet given all those, it’s not something that you would want to read again. It’s one of those books that you’re glad to finish, absorbed the moral, and the immoral, but just satisfied to have it lay on the bookshelf. The next time you touch it is when you recommend it to another reader.


About Me

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I'm a young professional working in a call center; a licensed nurse who's not practicing the profession, out of choice; gay, and proud to be; sporty with an active lifestyle filled with badminton and running; a reader who easily gets lost in a well-written story; a wannabe-author and wannabe-successful. But more importantly, I'm a writer with a hunger for life.

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