100 of 103 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mess on Kindle
The book is an interesting novelistic look at John Brown and what led up to the raid on Harpers Ferry, told from the point of view of one of his sons. It tends to get repetitious and had far too many sermons for my tastes. Still, an inside look at a history I knew little about. However I got the book on Kindle and it was a mess. Typos on just about every page. The word...
Published 6 months ago by Joan Torres
65 of 71 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too long, too melodramatic and a touch over indulgent
Do you remember at school when there was something that you didn't quite understand - usually algebra for me - and everybody else seemingly did? The last thing to do was to put your hand up and ask the teacher for clarification, thus one would stay quiet rather than be viewed as the class dunce. The psychology of my school days apart, the reading of Cloudsplitter by...
Published on July 9, 2000 by Simon Jackson
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100 of 103 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mess on Kindle,
This review is from: Cloudsplitter: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
The book is an interesting novelistic look at John Brown and what led up to the raid on Harpers Ferry, told from the point of view of one of his sons. It tends to get repetitious and had far too many sermons for my tastes. Still, an inside look at a history I knew little about. However I got the book on Kindle and it was a mess. Typos on just about every page. The word 'man's' was spelled 'manis' through out the book. Then in the last quarter the entire Harpers Ferry section was repeated twice. I think this is a terrible disservice to the author and all his hard work. There is no justification for a book to be sold and go out to the public in this condition.
65 of 71 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too long, too melodramatic and a touch over indulgent,
Do you remember at school when there was something that you didn't quite understand - usually algebra for me - and everybody else seemingly did? The last thing to do was to put your hand up and ask the teacher for clarification, thus one would stay quiet rather than be viewed as the class dunce. The psychology of my school days apart, the reading of Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks has left me with a similar feeling. The book has received a great many plaudits and I don't quite understand why. So I think maybe it's just me, that maybe I'm just missing something. But unlike my algebra classes I like to put my hand up!
Described on its cover as `a splendid epic' and ` A great American novel' when I finished it's mammoth 758 pages I agreed with some of these assessments and indeed still do. However, with the reflection of a couple of weeks maybe rather than the pleasure of completion what I actually was feeling the relief of completion.
Written from the perspective of Owen Brown, son of John Brown there is a great deal within the pages of Cloudsplitter that can be admired. It is in many instances well written, evocative, moving and extremely powerful. But the flip side is that it is also repetitive, boring, difficult to read and at times sleep inducing. The strength of the novel is in its depth of description both in terms of events and environments. The reader gains an understanding of the hardships of existing in certain parts of 19th century America. However, for this reader there is a vast difference between depth of description and length of description. On occasions I felt length replaced depth and furthermore became frustrated at attempts to flood me with language rather than lead me with it. The second half of the book - after Owen and his brother Fred head off to Kansas - picked up pace and I felt that I had more invested in the story. I do wish however that this could have happened before page 549!
Narrating his recollections via written correspondence to a researcher the melodramatic older Owen Brown suggests that he has become "nothing but paper.... a great disheveled heap of words" and for me coming to the end of the novel that's how I was beginning to feel.
I gave this book three stars because that's right in the middle of what I could have given. I suppose this is because Cloudsplitter for me hangs in the balance, one side represented by fine writing and the other by over indulgence. Ultimately I'm glad I read the book but for me it isn't an epic or the great American novel (living in England I'm never quite sure what the great American novel actually is!).
A measure for me of how much I've enjoyed a book is how many times I'll loan it out to friends and family - Cloudsplitter I regret to say will spend some time of my bookcase.
Now about that algebra!
26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant, epic novel of deep relevance,
By A Customer
I do not like the idea of heros; but Banks is able to humanize his characters so deeply and movingly that there is nothing else to call them. Instead of a vacuous glory like that ascribed to the so-caled founding fathers of the United States in American high school history classrooms, Banks presents us with Owen and John Brown, full of doubts and weaknesses, yet able to achieve amazing ends regardless. For these characters, bravery and integrity means something. For example, much confusion has surrounded the Pottawatomie Massacre carried out by John and Owen; it was a horrible deed, cold, ruthless, and terrorist. It is to Banks' credit that he develops his characters so well that this incident can be dealt with clearly. Reading Cloudsplitter, we can get a picture of how the real occurence might have happened.
Nearly everything about this book hits the mark. It is well-researched (although if you want to know the true history of these stories, you should look elsewhere, since Banks at times diverges from the record). The language Banks uses is appropriate to the subject, as is the epic length and scope of the work. The issues of racism are handled in their unresolved complexity, making the novel eminently useful for those living in the US today. The novel integrates broad, important ideas about spirituality, identity, and power with the emotional and psychological eruptions of all-too human beings in a way that will perhaps make it a classic statement about the human condition.
23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious,
A thoroughly meticulously and hugely ambitious telling of John Brown's life, culminating in the bloody rebellion at Harper's Ferry.
Russell Banks strays from his normal storytelling formula in Cloudsplitter; this novel reads like a well researched piece of historical fiction. Banks concentrates not only on capturing the characters with accuracy and depth (which he accomplishes here as in his other novels) but also on painting the mood and character of the time itself. This is the story not only of Owen and John Brown, but of pre-Civil War America itself.
At 758 pages it isn't a quick read, and the characters develop more slowly than they do in his other novels, but I never found the book to be needlessly verbose. We get a picture of John Brown that is comprehensive and complete, warts and all. And we also get an interesting look at the institution of chattel slavery in the United States, its crushing effectiveness, and the racial norms of the time.
Brown is painted as a man of principle, but a fanatic nonetheless. His power over his small band of followers is based largely on his overwhelming charisma, not on his vision or his doomed mission. The novel is based on actual events and therefore the reader knows how the action will end before it even begins, but Banks manages to keep the suspense building.
Banks employs some strange tactics in this novel, including a risky "out of body" experience that mixes an element of fantastic into his otherwise literal and meticulous storytelling (you might think you've wandered into a Rushdie or Gabrial Marquez novel). But somehow it all works. In summary: an interesting and challenging novel.
20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Filled up a lot of space.,
What prompted the rave reviews? Cloudsplitter was a difficult book to read, not because of the subject or the length, but because I began to suspect Banks was paid by the word. Every time it appeared that something substantive would be remembered or described, the narrator contradicted himself or amended what he just said. I longed for something definite. I'll write the rest of this review in that style, or perhaps not really, for my forebears, if I may call them such, would have chided me in their particular way (their way being of course thought by them to be the only way) perhaps because of their churchly upbringing, although they weren't religious in the sense in which "religious" was used in that time and place, yet perhaps they WERE religious when compared to the modern lack of...
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A meaningful and important book,
This review is from: Cloudsplitter: A Novel (Hardcover)
Russell Banks' Cloudsplitter is an important and engaging work of historical fiction, bringing John Brown and his family to life and exploring a period in American history in which the fate of the young nation truly hung in the balance. Many novels have been written of the Civil War years, by writers such as Jeffrey and Michael Shaara, as well as Charles Frazier. Banks instead brings the turbulent 1850's to life, complete with New England abolitionists, the Underground Railroad, and the political struggles culminating in some dubious "compromises" as more states entered the sharply-divided Union.
The structure of the book is unique, as the novel is comprised of a long narrative by surviving son Owen Brown, his father's right hand man during the years leading up to the deadly raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. Owen is supposedly gathering his papers and setting forth his story to a fictional "Miss Mayo", who, along with her boss, is working on a definitive biography of John Brown several decades after his death. Owen feels that his father has traditionally been misunderstood, branded an insane terrorist by some and a holy martyr by others, while Owen attempts to humanize him and the rest of the family.
Russell Banks apparently spent years in painstaking research on this book, and you wonder how much of the story is pure fiction, and how much of Owen's narrative is based on historical fact. Of course Banks would likely tell you that such inquiries are besides the point, although I will wonder whether John Brown really did write a Horatio Alger-like pamphlet for African Americans titled "Sambo's Mistakes". I absolutely loved the scene in which John Brown realizes his son Owen has stolen something, and rather than whip the boy the elder Brown makes Owen whip him, as punishment for John Brown's failings as a father which would lead his son to commit such an offense. Heavy stuff indeed.
Many reviewers have commented upon the length of the book, and while the language was never too difficult or tedious to get through, I must admit the Banks takes his time setting up the story, as the pace does not really pick up considerably until about page 400. There are meaningful episodes earlier, including John Brown's efforts to escort espaped slaves to Canada on the Underground Railroad, his family tragedies, and his land speculations and failures. We also see glimpses of other historical figures including Frederick Douglass and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who probably did interact with Brown in some fashion in real life.
Banks moves skillfully toward the climax of the book, throwing in references to future events in "Bloody Kansas" or Harpers Ferry to give the whole book a sense of foreboding. However the ultimate payoff was a little light to me, which is my reservation about giving the book 5 stars. By making surviving son Owen Brown his narrator, and by telling us that Owen's job is not to chronicle historical events (about which much has supposedly been written) but instead to concentrate on personal reminisces, Banks limits himself a bit. By the end, at Harpers Ferry, the reader (at least this reader) wants a little more historical detail than Owen can provide, due to his location and status during the culminating raid. Everybody knows John Brown's fate, but after 740 pages leading up to the great showdown, I wanted a little more than I got, (maybe words to his captors or specific details as to the fates of other members of the party). Ultimately what made the novel effective for the first 7/8ths of the book was the thing that brought the ending down a peg in my estimation.
Anyway, for those like myself who enjoy historical novels and who want to learn more about one of the most notorious and fascinating figures in American history, this is a monumental work. In reading Cloudsplitter, you understand the family dynamics which led Brown's sons to follow him into a maelstrom, you get a glimpse into the belief system of John Brown and his atheist son, and you wait with him for the great slave uprising which he thought would accompany his raid on the federal weapons arsenal at Harpers Ferry, as part of his campaign to rid the nation of the scourge of slavery. I am glad I read Cloudsplitter, but unlike some of my co-reviewers here I sure don't plan on doing it again.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic is right; this novel is simply brilliant!,
Years ago, while sitting alone in my room, I finished reading ‘The Sweet Hereafter’ and proclaimed that Russell Banks was the greatest American writer…after one book! It was a bold and somewhat hasty proclamation, I admit. But then I read ‘Affliction’, and then ‘Rule of the Bone’ and my mind was made up. I had planned on reading everything the mad had written and actually purchased all of his novels but time and children and life got in the way and next thing you know I’m reading other books and his are still sitting on the shelf. This month I decided to pick up ‘Cloudsplitter’, his 1998 piece of historical fiction that centers on the life of John Brown, the famed abolitionist.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say this again, but this may possibly be the greatest novel I’ve ever read.
The story is narrated by Owen Brown, John’s son and ‘partner in crime’ so-to-speak. Detailing their home lives and their involvement in the Underground Railroad, Banks uses Owen as a tool in order to flesh out some very intricate and provoking thoughts and questions about life in general and the allegiance to family and God.
At nearly eight-hundred pages, ‘Cloudsplitter’ could seem daunting, even to those of us who love a good book. It scared me for a minute as well, but Banks’ way of storytelling is so profound and so intoxicating that one can’t help but be drawn into every word. For anyone who has read a Banks novel before, you’ll know what I mean. He has a poetic way of delivery that makes even the most detailed of proses or the most factual of retelling feel light and airy and easy to digest. Despite being a historical novel, this is a fictionalized account that uses facts as well as misinterpreted facts as a way to burrow into the mind and get a more intimate portrait of an American family.
What Banks is able to do here is extraordinary. He takes a subject that alone carries with it a sharp air of controversy, that of slavery, and then uses it as a springboard to dissect the Brown family, exposing the flaws in their thinking as well as the cracks in their unity. He colors in the life of Owen Brown, our narrator, with such humanism, exposing his own insecurities and his confusion about life, his purpose and the sanctity of his father’s cause. His own familial slavery is broadened for the reader, so that we can feel the claustrophobic hold that John Brown has on his family, Owen in particular. As Owen grows up and begins to silently defy his father we can see these layers of the man begin to unfold. His view of his father, a man cursed with passion and religious ferocity, becomes clouded by his own developmental resistance and his feelings towards the cause at hand begin to waver. As the story slowly builds to the brutal finale, we are transporter to a world unlike any we’ve experienced.
Russell Banks is a novelist unlike any other. From page one right on through to the very last, ‘Cloudsplitter’ proves to be one of the most rewarding and thought provoking reads of my life.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One word sums up this book--Genius!,
Of the thousands of books I've read over a lifetime for both personal pleasure and duty as an student of literature and writing, Cloudsplitter is one that is on my Books I Marvel list. Banks transports the reader to the 19th century through the agonized psyche of Owen Brown, the conflicted but loyal son to abolitionist John Brown. The "stuff" you see and hear could not be more vivid, realistic, and jaw-dropping, such as when the Brown family and a freeman, Lyman Epps, walk from Connecticut to the Andirondacks, descending a tall mountain in a blizzard and stop to make a brake pole from a tree to insert in the back wheels of their covered wagon so it doesn't get away from them. The detail is incredible, so much so that I suspect Banks is a closeted time-traveller and that he found a way to revisit the 19th century to do his research in person. I just can't believe he recovered all this historical minutiae from scholarly research. He must be a wizard.
Say what you will about John Brown (yes, being African American, I view him as a saint), Bank's depiction of him, his evolution, is downright fascinating. For those who call him an insane terrorist, keep in mind that Brown's tactics were ultimately no worse than the violence done to millions of slaves during that period. Whose violence against humanity is the greater sin? Without massive resistance, I don't believe slave economy would have been obliterated and we can see that its remnants live on today with corporations who seek out cheap labor all over the globe.
For those who love to read, the 700 pages of well-written narrative will be treasured. Cloudsplitter takes you to the times and lets you settle in there for awhile. So what if you can't read the book in one sitting...or in 3? Given distractions these days, it'll probably take me near a month to finish it off, but that only means I have something quite extraordinary to look forward to everyday. Words aren't too many when they are so perfectly crafted as these.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too Much Owen, Not Enough John,
This review is from: Cloudsplitter: A Novel (Paperback)
The problem with this book is the narrator, a fictionalized Owen Brown, son of John Brown, crusading ablolitionist.
Presumably, one reads this book because one is interested in John Brown. Yet we are given endless pages of exposition and philosophizing by the hapless Owen, which only serve to bog down the narrative excessively.
Owen, as presented here, is simply not a compelling character. His extensive ruminations on his life and times are actually pretty banal. His mode of expression, along with his psychological insight, is anachronistic. People of his era just wouldn't talk this way. His explorations of his confused sexuality will make some readers squirm.
In the end, Owen's internal emotional logic does not add up. The climactic event, three-qaurters of the way through the book, which sets Owen on the path to violence, made me groan out loud. It was unconvincing and seemed contrived for (melo)dramatic effect.
The book springs to life when John Brown himself strides onto the page. A shame he is kept offstage for so much of the book.
There is a great american literary epic to be written about John Brown. Unfortunately, this book falls short.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Audio Edition - Heart Pounding Read,
This review is from: Cloudsplitter (Audio Cassette)
This review refers to "Cloudsplitter" by Russell Banks - audio cassette edition read by George DelHoyo....
If you are looking for a fabulous Historical novel for a great read on a long trip, this audio edition will keep you enthralled for the entire 6 hours.
John Brown who's fierce and violent attempts to free all the slaves is the focus of this story set on the eve of the Civil War. His life and the building of his utter contempt for slave owners and catchers is told through the eyes and participation in events by his son Owen. From the early beginnings of the "Underground Railroad" system,Banks builds on the tense situations, to murderous raids on those who opposed Brown to the heart pounding climax of the raid at Harper's Ferry. He also delves deep into the psyche of Owen Brown and his battle of conscience.Descriptions of the old South, the countrysides, the secret moving of Slaves and subsequent events,puts the reader right into the story. My Walkman was practically attached to me, I couldn't find a place I wanted to pause it.
The reading by George DelHoyo is magnificent as he finds all the emotional turmoil of Owen, the wrath of the controversial John Brown, the wisdom of Frederick Douglas and the horrors surrounding the events. I have never heard a reading by him before,but will be looking for more.I likened his voice to Nick Nolte's. Raspy and masculine.
There are 4 tapes for a total of 6 hours with quality sound. My only reason for 4 stars(instead of 5) is that this tape is an abridgement.It is recorded by Audio Literature.
An enthralling historical fiction read for audio book fans
enjoy the read....Laurie
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Cloudsplitter: A Novel by Russell Banks (Paperback - February 1, 1999)
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