I would not recommend this *audible* book to a friend, even though I would recommend the *book*. I found the narrator's style to get in the way of the story, with a ridiculously affected manner that made the characters sound comical even when they should not (particularly when reading the parts of Augustus and Livia).
The book itself is good, although I didn't think it was as good as the books in the "Masters of Rome" series by Colleen McCullough or "Imperium" by Robert Harris.
I listened to the sequel, "Claudius the God" read by Nelson Runger (also from Audible.com) and found it vastly superior. "I, Claudius" is also available by Runger, so I highly recommend that instead.
I enjoyed this book like I have not enjoyed one in many years (and I am always reading something).
The story is very well written, with many convincing details that make it feel true on a very basic level. The characters come to life with all of their sides and you can't help but feel that they really existed. Their interactions were captured in very subtle psychological nuances, much more than what I usually see in other fiction.
The horror of slavery comes to life in a really new way. We all know of slavery, but this books makes you feel the reality of it in a completely new way. It changes the way you see the world around you (can't think of a better compliment to a book).
I like how it manages to convey the important of heritage in a way I had not seen before.
The author talks about himself at the end, and his experience in writing the book. It's a very touching part. He talks about going back to Africa and meeting what is probably his ancestor's village, and of even laying in a dark hold of a ship crossing the Atlantic for many days, just to get an approximation of what the crossing must have felt like.
Avery Books narration is amazing. Besides his beautiful voice, the narration is strong and full of personality and yet it does not get in the way like so many audiobook narrations do. He makes several different voices with different accents, but they don't feel like caricatures like it happens so often with other audiobooks. The characters speak all in different ways, not only to sound different from each other, but in a way that really suits their personality. I think this narration adds a whole extra level of creative work on top of the novel, and improves it tremendously.
The book describes a 1899 world in which Golems and Jinnis actually exist. It does a good job at making that interesting and believable, and also paints a good picture of the historical time. It is quite poetic at times.
The main characters are a little shallow, a little flat (the Golem more than the Jinni). I expected to see some sort of spiritual quest, some development in which they learn how to cope with their own nature, some greater significance in their actions, but the story follows more like a sequence of haphazard events, although it does get a little better at the end.
At points the books is too long and slow. I love long books but in this one there were parts in which nothing much was actually happening, to the point that listening to it felt a bit like work.
The narrator performance is very good; he gave very distinct voices to each character and he had this unusual cadence that made his sentences very interesting.
I am still glad I read it but I was expecting a really top-notch book given all the raving reviews.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD:
Even though there is a suggestion all along that the Jinni and the Golem will fall in love, there is no romance chemistry in between them. The only thing they share is being mythical creatures in 1899 New York and they *do* have a lot of *friendship* chemistry, but the idea that they would fall in love was very unconvincing to me.
Having seen Gravity recently, and Apollo XIII years ago, I was not necessarily looking forward to another space survival story. But this book is great, not because of the theme, but because of how superbly executed it is.
The book is so realistic that while I was reading it the other day I was having lunch with coworkers and had the impulse to ask them if they have been following the news about the astronaut stranded on Mars. It took me a moment to remind myself it's fiction! That's how crazy good and realistic the book is.
The narration is also top-notch.
The book is long and I see some reviews complain about that. I found every bit of it interesting and I feel I have a much greater understanding of how American politics work, and I like the vision Clinton had for the US and its role in the world. I liked that he tried to provide a unified view of his life and how it all comes together, including his interesting childhood. I can't help believing he is quite sincere and liking him.
The bits about international relations where particularly interesting to me. Clinton can provide unique insight into how that works, and talks at length about the Israel-Palestine conflict in a way that makes it much more concrete, including how leaders' personalities influence the process.
One criticism I had is that I think he minced words too much about his sex scandals. It would be important to hear the true story of all that, but especially on the first ones back in Arkansas, he doesn't give details and only talks about "not having had a perfect life". I don't say that out of curiosity for salacious details, but because this is so central in how people think about Bill Clinton and how it would provide a better window into his personality and life.
The narrator's performance is great, places emphasis on the right places and made me enjoy the Southern American accent quite a bit.
The books discusses lots of basic economy principles and that is very well done and instructive, and does make you think about some things in new light. I felt that, while a liberal in social issues, I tended to be more conservative in economic terms and that has been strengthened with this book.
However, one of my motivations for reading it is to have a greater understanding of economy news such as the financial crisis and the Euro crisis, and I don't think I am closer to that than I was before reading this book. This is a problem I noticed with other introductory economy books; they dwell on the elegant abstract principles but don't help a whole lot in understanding the gritty details in real life.
Tom Weiner narration is great: elegant, without getting in the way of the content.
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