Hubi Asad lives in a land called Utopia. He awakens one day to realize that he wants more out of life, so he leaves his comfortable life behind to undertake an epic journey. Along the way, he meets many interesting people and even falls in love. But as he eventually learns, all is not well in Utopia. Seventy-five years earlier, the country was divided into five different factions following a series of brutal wars, and ever since, animosity between these factions as well as between the haves and have-nots has been building. Soon, Hubi finds himself acting as the voice of the common man as he travels throughout the different factions, drawing people to the cause of reuniting Utopia. Through his pursuit of this mission, will Hubi finally find what he's been seeking all along and will he be able to save his country from further senseless violence and destruction?
When blindly accepting books for review, I'm never quite sure what I'm going to find when I open the cover. It could be an incredible story that expands my mind, takes me on a thrill ride or makes me feel something very deeply. It could also be a dull story that I have to slog through and can barely wait to finish, not because I want to see how it ends, but because I'm more than ready to move on to something else. A World Named Utopia falls about halfway between these two extremes. My time spent reading it consisted of a lot of ups and downs. I think the story would probably appeal most to idealistic adventurers. I do consider myself to be an idealist, and therefore, I could understand and get on board with many of the philosophies espoused by Hubi. However, I must admit that I'm not particularly adventurous, so the idea of a man basically abandoning the life he knew to simply wander around the country was a difficult one to relate to. The use of a fair bit of passive voice and omniscient narration made parts of the story hard to get into. Also, there's a tendency for things to simply occur with little explanation as to why. For example, Hubi and Runi fall in love with no build-up of any kind, then by the end of the chapter have just as suddenly fallen out of love, again with no explanation. Another example is that the people of Utopia simply start following Hubi and viewing him as their hero, because he's supposedly this inspiring figure, but we see very little of him in action. There are lots of other similar examples too. Ultimately, Hubi was likable enough and there was enough going on in the story to partially engage my attention, but the weaknesses in plot, characterizations, and composition kept this book far outside the realm of a great read.
Despite my lack of adventurousness, I probably could have bought into Hubi's quest if his reasons for embarking on it were clearer and more deeply explored. Basically, he just wakes up one morning and decides that his parents are dead, his job sucks, and he wants to simply do what feels right at any given moment in his life. This particular day, what feels right is to pack up and go on a journey, and it's an escapade that ends up lasting for eight years, taking him all over his country of Utopia and into neighboring lands that used to be part of Utopia. A part of me admired Hubi's free-spiritedness, and I definitely like how he seemed to prefer associating with common folk. It made him very much a man of the people, and as a result he met a number of interesting individuals along the way. I also liked that he was a peace-loving man of principles and convictions who stood strong for the things he believed in and wouldn't give in to political pressure. However, it was still difficult for me to reconcile the simple man at the beginning of the story who just seemed to be searching for himself and trying to do the right thing with the massively popular, inspirational leader and military strategist he was by the end. I suppose it could simply be chalked up to personal growth, but for an individual to grow that much in the span of only eight years, stretched the bounds of credibility a bit. We also don't really get to see that growth as it's happening. Instead, we jump from one chapter of Hubi's life to the next, and must simply take it for granted. I think digging a little deeper into his characterization and showing more of who he is as a person instead of telling about these changes in his life would have really made Hubi a standout hero.
Another issue I had was with the general flow of the story. As I mentioned it jumps from one chapter of Hubi's life to the next. This made it feel more like a series of vignettes that didn't seem to bear a great deal of relevance to one another. Each mini-story was interesting in and of itself, but it would have been nice if they had all flowed together better into one coherent story. Instead, the narrative kind of meanders much like Hubi's journeys, which on the one hand, might seem like pure genius, but on the other hand, left me feeling like I never really had any idea where it was all going or why. There are some good ingredients here, but IMHO, it would have been a better story if the individual pieces had been more cohesive as a whole.
I also felt that the setting was underdeveloped. It seemed that the fictional land of Utopia was a country rich in history, yet we only see a snapshot of that. It's not until the fifth chapter (keeping in mind that the chapters are very long, so that was approximately halfway through the book) that we find out Utopia was broken up into five sections after a series of wars that took place 75 years earlier. At this point though, the geography was rather muddled. I didn't understand until later that each of these five pieces were basically self-governing countries. Hubi's quest then becomes the reunification of all five pieces which was a struggle that was difficult for me to become invested in, because I didn't fully understand what tore the country apart in the first place and why this reunification was so important to Hubi and the others. In this respect, I felt that the world-building could have been a lot stronger, and it could have been a fascinating exploration to delve into the political history of Utopia.
In spite of the perceived weaknesses in the storytelling, I would have actually enjoyed this book better if it had been properly edited. I always hate to be overly negative in my reviews, but I can't really express how rough of a read this book was without saying that it was one of the worst, if not the worst, book I've ever read with regards to editing issues. There were a plethora of typos, tons of missing or incorrect words (eg. the wrong pronouns and prepositions were frequently used, as well as innumerable incorrect verb tenses), and generally incorrect grammar. The overall wording of many sentences was awkward and repetitious. In most cases, too many words were used to say what needed to be said, and occasionally, too few were used to be clear. Basically, the only way I was able to get through the story and derive some measure of enjoyment from it was by turning on my internal editor and fixing all the errors as I was reading, because it was oftentimes the only way to make sense of what was being said.
Overall, I would say that A World Named Utopia is a worthwhile read, particularly for anyone who espouses non-violence, or who is an idealist or an adventurer. The philosophies presented would probably appeal most to these groups, and Hubi's journey is one that will probably give these types of readers some food for thought. I can't say that I was particularly impressed with the ending though. It was not what I would call optimistic in the least, and after going on this wild ride with Hubi, I really wanted something more satisfying. Perhaps there was some deeper meaning in the way things turned out, but if there was, it was lost on me. Still, I might be open to recommending the book, at least to the types of people I mentioned, but only if the author was to put it through a rigorous editing process. I think there are some good messages to be gleaned from the pages of A World Named Utopia, but they're, unfortunately, buried under a mountain of frustrating composition errors that made for a very difficult read.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
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