‘Origin’ was a much-anticipated read for me. I am unabashedly a big Dan Brown fan owing to the memories of reading ‘Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Angels and Demons’. Though the book I read before ‘Origin’ was a bit of a dampener, ‘The Lost Symbol’ compared to the previous two books.
Even so, I looked forward to ‘Origin’.
‘Origin’ is the fifth installment in the Robert Langdon series, the Harvard Professor of Symbology (of course a fictional academic discipline) wearing a Mickey Mouse watch, with an eidetic memory and spectacular decoding skills.
The story begins with Edward Kirsch at Montserrat in Catalonia, Spain. He called for this secretive meeting with the religious leaders from across the world to reveal his discovery on our ‘Origin’ question. Kirsch wanted to meet the religious leaders before going public with his knowledge in an international event for he believed his answer would shake people’s faith to the core.
Professor Robert Langdon is flown into the famous Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain to attend this event. Edmond Kirsch is Professor Langdon’s former student who is now an internationally renowned Scientist and Futurist.
Ambra Vidal, the future Queen of Spain is Langdon’s partner in this book. She happens to be a commoner, a curator at Guggenheim Museum whom the Prince of Spain (the future King) has recently proposed. The modern, independent Ambra Vidal is supposed to break free the conservative monarchy, much in sync with the views of the millennial generation of the country. The conservatism and fascism of Spanish Dictator Franco’s era is a backdrop to bring ‘Religion’ and ‘Science’ together in today’s progressive world.
The book follows the customary sequence of the Dan Brown-Langdon series. Edward Kirsch is murdered at the museum during the event, right before the revelation, unleashing the chase to bring his discovery to the fore. Along with Ambra Vidal and Langdon, the mainstay in the story is Winston, the next level Artificial Intelligence built by Edward Kirsch. At certain times, Winston annoyingly supersedes human emotions and responses. And, you have an unknown blogger bringing every minute detail of Langdon-Vidal chase to unravel Kirsch’s discovery to the online readers.
Moving on, in any Dan Brown book, the high point is the decrypting a symbol. In ‘Origin’, at times the keys are so simple that they could be an abbreviation, BIO for Bilbao airport, or an Uber taxi logo.
The only bit of code that got me interested was Langdon trying to find the forty-seven character password to Kirsch’s presentation, a line from his favourite poem. And, you get to run between Nietzsche and Blake.
“What are the two fundamental questions that have been asked by the human race throughout our entire history?…how did it all begin? Where do we come from?…Where are we going?”
These questions test your patience. A brush upon Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’ to ‘Miller-Urey’ experiment and other existing theories on the origin of life on Earth and you may still be biting your nails for the great revelation. The first hundred-pages just set the tone for the next three-hundred pages to follow. A slow pace does not work for a mystery/ thriller genre!
In Ambra Vidal’s words, (imagine the future Queen of Spain saying this to Professor Robert Langdon) ‘just remember the wise words of Disney’s Princess Elsa.’
Five Amazing Places in ‘Origin’ by Dan Brown
I thought instead of a review, I could give you a list of amazing places to look forward to in ‘Origin’.
Dan Brown is surely the writer who loves to incorporate art in his narrative, that is his strength and as a reader, I am happy always on the lookout for these gems. In ‘Origin’, he doesn’t disappoint on this front…it felt amazing to read about contemporary art and learn about ancient Spanish architecture.
So, whether you love this book as a thriller or not, your trip this time includes:
1. Montserrat Monastery in Catalonia
The book begins with a meeting between Edmond Kirsch and the group of religious leaders in the library of Montserrat Monastery.
Montserrat Monastery is located on the mountain range, around 45 kilometers northwest of Barcelona. This monastery is notable for enshrining the image of the Virgin of Montserrat founded in the 11th century, rebuilt between the 19th and 20th centuries, and still functions to this day. (source Wikipedia)
2. Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
The Guggenheim Museum is a museum of modern and contemporary art designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry located in Bilbao, Spain.
Remember Kirsch’s great revelation in an international event, it is organized at Guggenheim Museum. When Langdon reaches the museum, Winston takes him on a grand tour and he is amazed at the contemporary art on display.
Langdon takes you through the museum from the forty-foot-tall dog at the plaza to the towering black widow spider. Inside the museum, Langdon sees Yves Klein’s famous trademark pigment International Klein Blue spread on the floor rather than hanging on the wall. Another painting that comes to the front is ‘La Verbana’ by Maruja Mallo, a political satire with complex symbols.
3. Casa Mila
Voila, you get a tour to Casa Mila. In the book, Edward Kirsch lived in the penthouse in Casa Mila. Langdon and Ambra reach Casa Mila searching for Kirsch’s favourite poem on their quest for the password.
Casa Milà designed by architect Antoni Gaudí is one of his iconic works of civic architecture. It is also known as La Pedrera or ‘The stone quarry’ as a reference to its unconventional rough-hewn appearance as a modernist building. (source Wikipedia)
4. La Sagrada Familia
Langdon and Ambra Vidal’s search for Kirsch’s favourite poem takes them to La Sagrada Familia.
This is one of the most mesmerizing constructions of the modern world, a gem by Antoni Gaudi. The construction began in 1882, Gaudi died in 1926 when only a quarter of the basilica was completed. The construction has continued and is now expected to be completed by 2026.
5. Valley of the Fallen
Valdespino brings Prince Julián to the ‘Valley of the Fallen’ to meet his dying father, the King of Spain.
The ‘Valley of the Fallen’ was created by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco as a burial monument and a memorial church dedicated to those who died during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, but many still see it as a symbol of the dictator’s abuse of power.
If ‘Da Vinci Code’ was about Louvre and Vitruvian man, the ‘Origin’ is all about Guggenheim, Casa Mila and La Sagrada Familia.
Do write to me about your favourite Dan Brown book or your favourite piece of art as mentioned in one of his books.
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