The book is frustratingly devoid of citations and sources. It's even written in a way that makes it very difficult to follow up on interesting statements and references. Example: "One small, innovative community of researchers is making significant progress in copying neuronal organization and function." This is so vague that even if you did Google up a possible candidate, you would have no way of knowing whether you'd actually found the group referred to.
If you have already gained some familiarity with this field, this book will not be much use to you. It's a once-over-lightly of the field; it does not go into depth on anything.
The premise is interesting: that America in 2030 is so consumed by debt that the United States winds up effectively selling a 50% interest in Great Los Angeles to the Chinese.
The problem is that the author has shoehorned his story and his characters by force into the Procrustean bed of his theme. You can't do that to a novel and produce a book that has genuine life.
It does not help that he is so careless with his characters and their stories that he manages to forget that one of them is married. You can't do that to a novel and expect to hold your readers. You have to establish the basis for story developments to happen; you can't just arbitrarily decide that a given character will do or not do whatever is convenient for your story. You have to maintain your characters as living, believeable people. As soon as you stop doing that and start forcing their lives to bend your your ideas, you've killed your novel. This one winds up stone dead about 2/3 of the way through, and there's no resuscitation possible.
On a sentence-by-sentence level, the writing is poor. The author seems to have no sense of rhythm, no ability to craft interesting sentence and paragraph structures, no skill with language to speak of.
It's a 1. It could have been a 5. It's just too bad it isn't.
The first reason it disappoints so can be summed up in the author’s own words. He states, of Rian Malan’s work, “The reader has to be sent away with a feeling of purpose, of something achieved.” That is precisely what this book does not accomplish. The author spent a few months in Africa, moving, apparently aimlessly, from place to place, allegedly seeking a profound understanding of African traditional religious belief. He records his random interaction with this person and that person, his disjointed experiences in this place and that place, giving us accounts that barely rise to impressionistic records of what he saw and heard without ever shedding any light on the ostensible subject. As an objective investigation, the book is utterly lacking, containing not a shred of verifiable information or data at all related to his subject. As an emotional expression, the book is dull, flat and pedestrian; his most powerfully felt responses are expressions of concern for the welfare of the stray kittens he encounters from time to time and his near panic whenever it occurs to him that the politics of a given encounter may require him to cough up some cash.
The second reason it disappoints is that it is so badly written. He simply shows no gift for or skill with language. His writing has no rhythm, no music, no flair, no style. He neither takes pleasure in words and language nor gives pleasure through them. He gives us the flat, dull, lifeless reportage of a journalist assigned to a boring beat forced to write at a fourth-grade level. The single most inescapable responsibility of the writer is to hold the attention of the reader; this reader found himself forced to hold his attention on the book, which did nothing to assist the effort. I do hope someday to find a really good book on African traditional religion; this one most assuredly does not fill the bill.