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Michelle’s commentary on books, digital publishing and intersections between fiction & reality

Reading “Anthem” in Zagreb & Zadar, Croatia

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April 16, 2022

The Book: Anthem by Noah Hawley

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2/5 stars

*No spoilers*

I had high hopes for this book—everything about the concept and the initial few pages intrigued me. This isn’t the first book I’ve read set in an eerily similar, COVID world. However, where Burntcoat shined in its writing style and exploration of more substantial themes than the pandemic world it was set in, Anthem fell incredibly short.

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The first 50-100 or so pages flew by. The characters were interesting and introduced well, Hawley’s writing style was intriguing and I couldn’t predict where the plot was going.

That right there was the problem, as I don’t believe Hawley knew where the story was going either.

My initial reaction as I reached the mid-way point was that it was like reading a bad Stephen King book. It felt like Hawley was trying to replicate King’s writing style—which is especially curious, given this was Hawley’s sixth published novel. I’d expect something like this from a debut, not an established writer.

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I wasn’t alone in this sentiment, as other reviewers noted the odd similarities to King. It was like The Stand meets the latter half of Billy Summers, except minus all of the good parts. There’s even a character introduced named Randall Flag.

There is no care given to the characters, some of them die off without any real reason. There are constant coincidences that are all written off because there is a character named “The Prophet” who is fulfilling God’s will.

The story is rushed, it makes zero sense at most times and where the beginning of the book was interesting with its commentary on the state of America, it was tediously repetitive and annoying by the end. This was a bad book, though I feel it had a lot of potential.

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Favorite Quotes

  • The signs read HOPE, after all. NOT EXPECT OR DEMAND. As if the promise of a better world could still be  discussed only in the language of dreams.
  • Like any variation on death, we measure it in tears. 
  • Deep down, it seemed, many Americans were convinced that a gain for others was a loss for themselves.
  • A frog in a hot pot knows he should jump, but who doesn’t like a nice warm bath? 
  • Is this the price of a dream? To lose everything that matters, to trade love for a fancier top line to your obituary?

The Place: Zagreb & Zadar, Croatia in March

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How bad can a book really be though when you’re reading it in sunny Croatia? Still pretty terrible, but at least the setting was nice.

I spent a month in Zadar and took a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park, an overnight trip to Zagreb, saw the sunset in Nin and visited the island of Preko a couple of times.

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My place in Zadar was stunning, as you can see from the pictures. It was on the top floor and had two incredible balconies that got sun all day long and overlooked the old town. My last month in Budapest was very fast-paced, and it was nice to take a break and just unwind.

I also left my job after persisting feelings of being unappreciated and undervalued. I had friends come visit three separate times, but aside from that it was just me and Jasper. There was a lot of free time—which was mainly spent sunbathing outside, drinking wine by the water, strolling through the streets and of course, reading.

Zadar is a very small town, it boasts just two main attractions really, the Sea Organ and Sun Salutation. Both were created by architect Nikola Bašić and are stunning—visually and audibly. They also both rely solely on nature.

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While a video can never compare to the real thing, you can check this out to hear the haunting notes of the Sea Organ. As the waves crash against the steps, it creates a unique sort of whistling sound. The Sun Salutation collects the sun’s energy during the day and becomes a vibrant light show from sunset to sunrise.

Zagreb on the other hand was a much more lively city and reminded me a bit of Vienna. I spent the first night with a few friends before they returned to Hungary and we were just in time for the last day of the city’s light festival.

I had the next half-day to myself. The štrukli—pictured with my book earlier up—from La Struk was delicious and I enjoyed it in the quiet little garden seating of the restaurant. There wasn’t time for much, but I spent an hour in The Museum of Broken Relationships which resulted in a few tears and laughs.

A lightning storm wrapped up my last few days in Zadar. Living on the 10th floor, it was exciting to see streaks of lightning from that high up. With hardly any cloud coverage, they were completely visible and I’d never experienced anything like that.

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Zadar definitely rivals Nice now on my list of favorite places. Maybe if I’d spent a bit more time there or made some friends in the city it could have toppled it, but for now Nice still has my heart when it comes to small, seaside European cities.

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