Brown sees next caper as hit here

'Da Vinci' author plumbs secretive Masons, throws in Japanese twist

by Seana K. Magee

Kyodo News

EXETER, N.H. — American author Dan Brown believes Japanese readers will be sucked in by his latest novel, “The Lost Symbol,” because it is a mystery that delves into the secret world of Freemasons.

Rumored to be members of this fraternal organization are some of the world’s most powerful figures and many notable ones.

At least 14 American presidents, including George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and Gerald R. Ford, and high-profile businessmen, scientists, entertainers and artists have been part of the exclusive club, which few outsiders know much about.

“I believe (the book) will be well received because the Masons are so interesting and so mysterious that I think they really transcend culture, meaning that we all love secrets, we all love secret societies,” Brown said at the library of his alma mater, the famous Phillips Exeter Academy.

“It doesn’t matter if we are Japanese or American or Australian, we are all interested in powerful people gathering behind closed doors,” Brown added, speaking ahead of the book’s release in Japan this month.

The 45-year-old Brown said he was not a Mason himself but was curious about them. He said he was granted a unique glimpse into their world for his research.

Brown is best known for his worldwide best-seller, “The Da Vinci Code,” which has been translated into more than 50 languages since it was released in 2003. It has sold more than 80 million copies.

In the same vein as the smash hit, the writer designed his latest story as a “treasure hunt.” It unfolds over 12 hours in the nation’s capital with its rich Masonic monuments and symbolism.

After debuting in the 2000 book “Angels and Demons,” Harvard symbolist Robert Langdon makes his third appearance as the lead character.

Yet instead of deciphering symbols linked to secret societies in Europe, the academic is thrown into the bowels of Washington.

Clambering through tunnels and chambers, he is in a race against time to crack codes to save a kidnapped friend and prominent Mason.

While uncovering cryptic clues to access well-guarded secrets, he must also stay ahead of CIA agents who are in hot pursuit.

Brown, a New Hampshire native who first traveled to Japan in the 1980s, chose a hardened Japanese-American as the tenacious head of the CIA’s powerful office of security. This character, Sato Inoue, he said, was “absolutely critical” to the story line because she was an “obstacle” that Langdon had to reckon with.

Her personality is layered. Born in California’s Manzanar internment camp for Japanese-Americans rounded up during World War II, she is portrayed as a patriot who also carries a chip on her shoulder.

“She is an island kind of character,” he added. “She has a complicated back story that makes you distrust her, makes you imagine that she could be thinking anything because who wouldn’t be if your own country arrested you and your own heritage attacked you?”

Although the novelist is known to create characters whose names are similar to those closest to him, Sato was simply chosen for phonetic and symbolic reasons.

While he said her family name sounds “short, clipped and hard” — just like she is professionally — her first name is “softer and more feminine.”

In comparing his latest endeavor to his other books, Brown said it stands out for being more philosophical.

In “Angels” Brown said he wrote Langdon into a story built around a conflict between religion and science where there was “no middle ground.”

“Da Vinci,” he said, introduced a new reasoning that blurred lines between science and religion, all the while raising questions about Jesus.

In his most recent work Brown said he went a “step further.” While introducing readers to noetic science, which explores the nature and potential of human consciousness, he also asks about God’s link to us as humans.

“What is happening in ‘The Lost Symbol’ is that we are realizing that science and religion are actually saying the same exact thing and that we are at this very exciting moment in history,” he enthusiastically noted.

“I think at the very core (of the book) the idea is that the human mind has powers we have not yet begun to understand and that our connection to God is much closer than we might imagine.”

Brown also confirmed that the book is being adapted for the screen and the film is projected to be released in fall 2011. Steven Knight has been selected as the screenwriter and it seems probable that Tom Hanks will play Langdon for the third time.

Of future projects, Brown, who said he spent the last six years devoted to the book, was tight-lipped about where Langdon may end up next.

Brown, however, admitted to a fascination with Eastern philosophy and science, touched off by his earlier travels to Asia.

Brown first traveled to Japan in 1983 as an Amherst College glee club member. While there he had a home-stay in Kyoto, toured Tokyo and sang at Hiroshima Peace Park.

He did not rule out the possibility the Harvard professor might one day find himself on a quest to uncover ancient truths buried in Asia.