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May 16, 2013

Dan Brown’s Very Latest, Inferno, Is An Engrossing Read

By HILLEL ITALIE

AP National Writer

New York (AP) Dan Brown sees the world a little differently than the average person.

``I wish I could travel for pleasure,’’ says the author of such scenic blockbusters as ``The Da Vinci Code’’ and ``Angels and Demons,’’ in which secrets and suspense are combined with a guided tour of Italy and other stops in Western Europe. ``Everything I see is a potential idea and I wish I could turn that off. Maybe I shouldn’t. But, yes, every little work of art that I see or place that I travel to is a potential idea.’’

Brown, 48, in this photo, spoke recently at the midtown Manhattan offices of Random House Inc., where he jokingly imagines setting a novel called ``Random Cipher,’’ with hidden passageways running throughout the building. Brown is a New Hampshire resident spending the week in New York to promote ``Inferno,’’ a return to his beloved continent and a chance, he hopes, to interest readers in the classic 14th century journey in verse by Dante that provides the title for his new novel.

``My hope for this book is that people are inspired either to discover or rediscover Dante. And, if all goes well, they will simultaneously appreciate some of the incredible art that Dante has inspired for the last 700 years,’’ says Brown, who with ``The Da Vinci Code’’ helped inspire customized tours of the Louvre, Westminster Abbey and other settings in the novel.

Brown’s new book, published Tuesday, is already high on the best seller lists of Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com, a position to be expected for an author whose novels have sold 200 million copies worldwide. ``The Da Vinci Code’’ alone has sold more than 80 million copies and ranked Brown with J.K. Rowling among novelists for whose publishers the deadliest sin is spoiling the plot.

Brown’s fictional alter ego, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, is once again on the run. Caught up in a struggle to prevent a deadly virus from spreading around the globe, he wakes up in a daze in an Italian hospital at the start of the novel and spends the rest of the book trying to regain his bearings. There’s a love interest—sort of—visits to historical landmarks in Florence, Venice and elsewhere and mysterious codes that allude to passages from Dante.

Everything about ``Inferno’’ is a tease, including the way the author has written and promoted it. Brown makes a point of visiting the locations he describes, and since ``The Da Vinci Code’’ published in 2003, his fans have obsessively tried to discern where his next books might take place and what they’re about. Details of his 2009 novel ``The Lost Symbol’’ emerged thanks to reports that Brown, whose dimpled chin and sandy-colored hair are known to many, had been spending time in Washington, D.C. Counter-espionage became necessary during his European travels for ``Inferno.’’

``Researching now is a double-edged sword,’’ Brown says. ``It’s great because I’ve got access to things I never had access to before. But it’s also more difficult because I’m trying to write in secret on some level and people know who I am. So half of the questions I ask are totally irrelevant to the book, just to keep people guessing.’’

Dante was highly critical of the Catholic church and Brown was happy to let readers and critics wonder if he would renew the controversies of ``Angels and Demons’’ and ``The Da Vinci Code,’’ both of which enraged church officials with such speculations as a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. But the target in ``Inferno’’ is overpopulation, an issue not raised by Dante even in his crowded rings of Hell.

Brown does briefly take on the Vatican in ``Inferno’’ for its ``meddling in reproductive issues’’ and he praises Melinda Gates, ``a devout Catholic herself,’’ for raising hundreds of millions of dollars to improve access to birth control.

But instead of reviewing church history, Brown has spent the past few years studying the future. He has immersed himself in transhumanism, which advocates the use of technology to alter the mind and body, and has his characters debate the morality of genetics. Among those thanked in his acknowledgements are not just art scholars in Italy, but the ``exceptional minds of Dr. George Abraham, Dr. John Treanor and Dr. Bob Helm for their scientific expertise.’’

The book subscribes to no faith, but does contain a moral, from Dante himself: inaction during a time of crisis is a sin. Overpopulation, Brown says, is an issue so profound that all of us need to ask what should be done. The author himself has not decided.

``This is not an activist book. I don’t have any solution,’’ he says. ``I don’t fall on the side of any particular proposed solution. This is just my way of saying, `Hello, there’s an issue that people far more skilled than I am in these topics need to address.’’’

Man Hits The Road On Harley To Collect WWII Vets’ Stories

JOHN D. HARDEN

Denton Record-Chronicle

Denton, TX (AP) Denton native Mark Humphreys recalled a conversation he had with a World War II veteran who witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The veteran told a story about narrowly escaping death, while at the same time watching other soldiers die during the surprise attack by Japanese fighter pilots, Humphreys said.

``He told me that a plane flew so close to the ship he was on, that he was able to see into the eyes of the Japanese pilot,’’ Humphreys said. ``That’s a story you never hear about.’’

Each year, the number of World War II veterans continues to drop and every year their stories are forgotten and never told, Humphreys said.

The Denton Record-Chronicle reports to collect as many stories as he can, Humphreys is taking his Harley-Davidson motorcycle on a year-long road trip across the U.S. to document interviews with WWII veterans.

He’s calling his endeavor the GI Generation Project.

``The stories they have to tell keep me on the edge of my seat,’’ he said. ``It’s exciting because you have a speaking history book right in front of you.’’

Humphreys, 44, and a 1997 University of North Texas graduate, retired from the military this year after serving for 27 years.

On Jan. 1, he began his project by interviewing local WWII veterans while still on active duty in Tampa, Fla.

Now retired, Humphrey said he has plans to go on to Fort Benning, Ga., where he has scheduled interviews and a tour of the Army Infantry School and Museum before continuing to California and Hawaii.

``I spent 27 years serving this country and I never got a chance to see the country I fought for,’’ he said. ``I get to travel and also collect stories that could be lost forever.’’

Humphreys plans on collecting about 150 interviews and he already has at least 20. He said he is contacting the American Legion and veterans services in each state, setting up interviews with local veterans.

``I’m not looking for war heroes. I’m trying to capture the stories of men, women and minorities that probably can’t be found in a history book,’’ he said. ``We all know the big story about the war, but I think the small details are important, too.’’

Humphreys said he has friends and friends of friends scattered throughout the country that will provide places for him to lodge while he is on the road.

``My biggest expenses will definitely be food and fuel,’’ he said. ``But it doesn’t hurt that the Harley gets 45 miles per gallon.’’

By the end of this year, Humphreys plans to have logged more than 30,000 miles on his motorcycle.

About 16 million U.S. soldiers served in World War II and according to the 2010 Census, about 2.3 million in World War II veterans are still alive.

And according to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs last month, a little more than 600 World War II veterans die each day.

Last Wednesday, about 20 World War II veterans were recognized in the Texas Senate to commemorate Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day.

On May 8, 1945, WWII allies accepted the surrender of Nazi Germany, ending the war in Europe.

Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, introduced each veteran, including Gov. Rick Perry’s father, Ray Perry, who flew 35 missions over Europe.

Birdwell praised the veterans for their service during the war and said they are examples of the country’s greatest generation.

Humphreys will end his tour at the end of the year and make each of the videos and stories he collects available to the public.

He will keep a blog diary on his website, http://www.gigenerationproject.org

``I’m not doing this for any monetary gain,’’ he said. ``As a travel, I hope I can collect as many stories as I can from the men and women who also fought for us.’’

Information from: Denton Record-Chronicle, http://www.dentonrc.com

Fitzgerald’s Obscure Grave Garnering More Visitors Now

MEGAN McDONOUGH

The Washington Post

Rockville, MD (AP) No offense, Scott and Zelda, but this plot of land, pinched between Rockville Pike and Veirs Mill Road, is easy to miss.

Thousands of commuters drive past with nary a wave. Red Line trains zip by, oblivious. Nearby strip malls yawn.
Not exactly the kind of place where you’d expect to find a Great American Writer and His Wife.

But there they are, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, underneath a canopy of oak trees on the grounds of the historic St. Mary’s Catholic Church, their place immemorial marked by a simple, flat, gravestone. It bears the classic last lines of Fitzgerald’s ``The Great Gatsby’’: ``So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’’

You may have heard: The book has been made into a movie, which opened Friday and is credited with catapulting the novel onto Amazon’s bestsellers list. The couple’s granddaughter, writer-filmmaker Eleanor Lanahan, said the movie stayed true to the novel and was ``very good.’’

Things have changed for Scott and Zelda. ``We usually see a handful of people visiting the cemetery in a given week,’’ said Rev. Monsignor Robert Amey, who has been with St. Mary’s since 2009. ``That number has tripled in the last week.’’

Larry Durkin, a Baltimore native, made the pilgrimage Wednesday afternoon. ```The Great Gatsby’ is a piece of Americana,’’ he said, smiling. ``I read it much later in life, after my grandsons were assigned the novel. I liked it so much, I read it twice.’’ Durkin and his wife also visited the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Ala. ``He left a mark on the world whether or not he realized it at the time.’’

Some visitors leave mementos, most commonly flowers, spare change and liquor. Aspiring authors leave pens, and admirers occasionally write handwritten notes. A top hat, adorned with a martini glass ribbon, is the most recent addition.

``It is a way for people to respect and feel close, both emotionally and physically, to people that they admire,’’ said Steve Goldstein, a cemetery historian. ``It is fascinating to know that you are standing on the one place on Earth where the celebrity is literally right underneath your feet.’’

Scott and Zelda weren’t always here. But Rockville makes sense as their final resting place.

Although he was born in St. Paul, Minn., Fitzgerald has deep roots in Maryland. His father was born in 1853 on a small farm near Rockville and married his mother in Washington in 1890. Maryland-born Francis Scott Key—composer of ``The Star-Spangled Banner’’—is Fitzgerald’s namesake and distant cousin.

In 1940, Fitzgerald suffered a fatal heart attack at age 44, while living in Los Angeles. By all accounts, he wanted to be buried with about 15 of his relatives interred at St. Mary’s.

``I belong here (in Maryland), where everything is civilized and gay and rotted and polite,’’ he wrote in a 1935 letter to his friend and secretary, Laura Guthrie. ``I wouldn’t mind a bit if in a few years Zelda and I could snuggle up together under a stone in some old graveyard here.’’

The church initially rejected the family’s burial request; Fitzgerald was a lapsed Catholic at the time of his death. His risque and provocative Jazz Age writings, alcoholism and marriage to a Protestant did not improve matters.

He was initially laid to rest at the Rockville Union Cemetery, a Protestant graveyard located a mile and a half away. His funeral, much like that of his title character Jay Gatsby, attracted little fanfare. About 25 people attended, including the six pallbearers hired by his editor. Zelda joined her husband eight years later, after dying in a fire at a North Carolina asylum.

The Fitzgeralds’ only child, Frances ``Scottie’’ Fitzgerald, successfully petitioned to have the couple moved to St. Mary’s in 1975. ``The church believed it important,’’ Amey said, ``to consider his God-given talents and literary genius.’’ Online: Natchez Trace, http://www.nps.gov/natr

 

 


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