American Gods

by Neil Gaiman

Read time: about 8 minutes

“The boundaries of our country, sir? Why sir, onto the north we are bound by the Aurora Borealis, on the east we are bounded by the rising sun, on the south we are bounded by the procession of the Equinoxes, and on the west by the Day of Judgement.”

Having this as the curtain raiser to the first chapter, gave it a mysterious aura to what lay ahead. What followed did justice to my expectation of the book. The world you imagine while journeying through this beautiful novel, sets it right apart from all others. The stories stay with you after every chapter, returning to your dreams as manifestations of your perspectives.

Cover: American Gods

Cover Page

The cover page is adorned with the World Tree, which depicts its significance in the book. It has a minimalistic design approach with the presence of the bare tree, without the leaves, which is enhanced with the fractal branches.


The novel has an abundance of characters, who in their own way, play pivotal roles in shaping the story. There are old gods and the new gods. Shadow Moon, the protagonist, and Mr. Wednesday, his mentor and an almost savior-like figure, to his disrupted world, is the face of the Old Gods. These primary characters hold the story together through abundance of adventures and bizarre encounters.

Laura Moon, Shadow’s wife is a constant presence in the book, who surfaces when he is in dire need of answers to his past life. The old gods—Mr. Ibis, Mr. Jacquel, Czernobog and Mr. Nancy—shape the path of Shadow’s journey by enforcing their primordial mythical roles in the present. They guide him with riddles which Shadow decodes at every part of this significant journey. The new gods include Mr. World, the leader followed by Mr. Town and Media to name a few. They surface in Shadow’s life in the form of negotiations which can lead him to be on their side.

The book involves a lot of other mythical characters derived from folklore. Every character has his/her own story to tell and has the reader going back in time to understand their existence, the people who created them and the extent to which they’ve continued to be remembered. This strikes as the most fascinating aspect of the book.


The book starts off with Shadow being in prison, his term almost coming to an end. He is released earlier owing to an untimely event. The news that reaches him, shatters him and his faith in life. Little does he know that his release from prison is a step into the realm of a world filled with the ancient mythological gods vs. the new age gods.

Employed to serving as Wednesday’s muscleman, Shadow Moon encounters the cultures brought over to America, over a course of time which ranges from the Norse traditions, to the African, Egyptian and Indian ones, to the mythologies and traditions of the native Red Indians.

He has the power and ability to be liked by all, which enables him to discover his true identity. The thin line of distinction between dreams and reality force him to make decisions, which lead him to his roots and his faith in himself is the key to uncovering his true identity.

Neil Gaiman has captured the essence of a god as an idea kept alive over a period of time, built upon the widespread belief in a higher power which many believe controls the universe and its machinations. The widespread immigration into the “land of dreams” and the multicultural world that is America also brought in an array of cultures, traditions and Gods. Gaiman portrays the minorities in the country though the various Gods and their place in the story.

What most may perceive as a chaotic and mind numbing discussions about one’s right to be a part of America, the book is a commentary on societal roles.

The underlying notes of modern society and dominance of one culture taking over the minorities is weaved through the introduction of a myriad of mythological gods surviving the postmodern age with the help of their long forgotten ‘powers’ conflicting with the new age gods – technology and media. The story resonates with deeply rooted bonds to one’s origin which is filled with metaphors.


Gaiman’s seamless shift from the third person to a personal narrative of the central character – Shadow, depicts his presence in the goings-on. The snippets of writings from Mr. Ibis’s journal on the history of the Old Gods’ arrival, adds to the complex narrative, giving the story, much needed context.

Good Points

Poems, ballads, songs and snippets from journals are the curtain raisers for what is to follow. Besides being a thrilling work of fiction, the collective history of myths from across the world, makes the book not only entertaining, but educational. It makes you go back in time to understand how the stories originated and the ways they’ve been kept alive.

Mythologies are our portals to the world of our ancestors. They contain stories which have sprung out of certain circumstances, with a large scoop of imagination to it. The vigor with which myths have survived for centuries gives one the key to a perspective into the minds of our ancestors. And this is not disappointing.

The gods have attained multiple definitions and reasons for existence. They depict one’s trail of thoughts; they change with circumstances, and they give some people a reason to live and some others a reason to indulge in to the minds of the millions who have ignited life into these mythologies.

Another interesting aspect of the book is how Shadow’s dreams manifest into a talisman which decodes his thoughts. He dreams of wild mystical creatures, of gods and goddesses, who help him perceive situations in ways that would lead him to his destination.

Bad Points

The story converges at the encounter between the Old Gods and the New Gods, which culminates into a war. The manifestation of the story to this scene was not only anti-climactic but also added a sense of predictability.


A fantasy, captured with an essence of reality, which makes it all the more fascinating.

Whom do I recommend this to

I would recommend this to the ones who like fantasies and mythologies and to those who can stir up their imagination because the book definitely has you setting a stage for it.

Quotable quotes

I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.

There’s never been a true war that wasn’t fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous.

People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief that makes things happen.

Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you—even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs over all opposition. Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world. So none of this is happening. Such things could not occur. Never a word of it is literally true.

All we have to believe with is our senses, the tools we use to perceive the world: our sight, our touch, our memory. If they lie to us, then nothing can be trusted. And even if we do not believe, then still we cannot travel in any other way than the road our senses show us; and we must walk that road to the end.

Don’t start anything you’re not prepared to finish.

She patted him on the arm. “You’re fucked up, Mister. But you’re cool.”
“I believe that’s what they call the human condition,” said Shadow.

Have you thought about what it means to be a god?” asked the man. He had a beard and a baseball cap. “It means you give up your mortal existence to become a meme: something that lives forever in people’s minds, like the tune of a nursery rhyme. It means that everyone gets to re-create you in their own minds. You barely have your own identity any more. Instead, you’re a thousand aspects of what people need you to be. And everyone wants something different from you. Nothing is fixed, nothing is stable.

Go ahead, grab yourself a copy of American Gods and tell us what you think about the book! If you are a Kindle person, ensure to select the Kindle edition of the book.

American Gods

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Pooja Ram

Bibliophile, believer in the magic of the rain and mountains, an occasional realist.

Bangalore, KA