Date of Publication: 2001, HarperCollins
Number of Pages: 588
Synopsis (from back cover): Released from prison, Shadow finds his world turned upside down. His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job. But Mr. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming – a battle for the very soul of America…and they are in its direct path.
Review: Neil Gaiman, originally from England, explores an issue that every American, whether they realize it or not, has struggled with. Who are the gods of America? Where do they come from? America is a country founded by people from all over the world, depriving us of a central mythology or religion. Even the people who crossed the land bridge over the Bering Straight brought their gods with them…they weren’t here already. This is the problem that face the unique characters in Gaiman’s story. They are gods…but what happens to gods when people stop believing in them? People brought them here, and then abandoned them. The gods in the story are a wandering people, misunderstood, forgotten, and fighting for survival.
Shadow unwittingly gets put in the middle of the fight between the old beliefs and the new. As a main character, Shadow is mysteriously incomplete. Although much of the story is told from his point of view, he seems to simply react to things and doesn’t ponder them. In any other book, this would be a drawback, but in this one, Shadow fits perfectly. He is a man without a past; after the death of his wife, he lets go of his past and unflinchingly accepts his new fate.
As an American reading this book, I really identified with the idea that this country is a difficult place for gods. My ancestors came from all over Europe; there is no one defining culture or belief system. But the book provides a warning, that as a society, in place of the old gods, we have set up new ones: technology, mass media, fashion. To what or whom will we sell our souls?