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The Cloud Atlas Paperback – October 26, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback; Reprint edition (October 26, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385336950
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385336956
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #196,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In his gorgeous debut novel, The Cloud Atlas, Liam Callanan merges fact and fantasy in a dual narrative set in Alaska amidst the waning days of World War II. In a hospice care facility Louis Belk is an aged priest providing religious comfort and confession to a dying friend, a Yup'ik shaman named Ronnie. But, as Ronnie reaches the final stages of life, Belk begins a confession of his own.

The narrative turns back to young Belk's career as a bomb disposal specialist during the war. When Belk witnesses a bizarre balloon explosive kill several soldiers at Fort Cronkhite outside of San Francisco, he is summarily shipped to Alaska to join a top secret military unit dedicated to uncovering the mystery of what turn out to be Japanese balloon bombs (Callanan based this story on an actual Japanese program that was largely covered up by the US government during the war). Belk's commanding officer, Captain Gurley--a cross between Conrad's Colonel Kurz and Melville's Ahab--is a disgraced former OSS man with a Princeton pedigree and an artificial leg. The leg is a permanent reminder of his failure to defuse his first balloon bomb, and it fuels an obsession to discover and collect all such bombs in the future. In possession of a captured leather-bound atlas filled with maps and neat Japanese script, Gurley is also convinced that the Japanese are about to launch far more deadly cargo on the balloons, perhaps spies or plague virus. Meanwhile, Belk and Gurley become embroiled in an explosive love triangle with the local fortune teller, Lily, a woman with an uncanny ability to read people's lives but unable to understand her own destructive passions or escape her demons.

In unfolding this complicated story, Callan manages to keep the development of Belk, Lily, and Gurney in an almost perfect balance with the telling of a well-paced and compelling war-time narrative. Callanan enriches the novel with details of 1940s bomb disposal procedures and provides a thorough anatomy of Japanese balloon bombs. He also establishes Alaska--a place seemingly caught between American and Yup'ik culture--as a space for American magical realism, where spirit animals and Catholic mysticism can cohabitate. As a first effort, The Cloud Atlas is all silver lining. --Patrick O'Kelley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The unlikely adventures of an 18-year-old soldier trained in bomb detection and disposal during World War II are painstakingly rendered against an Alaskan backdrop in Callanan's richly textured, sturdy debut. In the mid-1940s, Sgt. Louis Belk's main mission is to seek out and detonate Japanese hot air balloons that have been armed with explosives and deployed over North Americaan unusual but deadly war weapon. The slightest rumor of the balloons' existence might have a disastrous effect on American morale, which makes the job of Belk's bomb disposal unit even more critical. The unit's commanding officer, the eccentric, unbending Capt. Thomas Gurley, is a veteran spy hunter who lost a leg in an explosion and is on the verge of losing his mind. Both Gurley and Belk are smitten with Lily, an enticingly beautiful Yup'ik-Russian Eskimo seer whose great love, Saburo, a Japanese spy, is Gurley's nemesis. When the three go out in search of Saburo, they find something even more dangerous and puzzling: a booby-trapped balloon carrying a young Japanese boy. The narrative flits back and forth from Belk's harrowing exploits as a soldier to his present-day life as an Alaskan missionary tending to his friend Ronnie, who lies on his deathbed in an Alaskan hospice. Shadowed by the darkness of "arctic hysteria," the novel is brightened by crisp descriptions of bomb mechanisms and deactivation, as well as by Belk's offbeat, lyrical narration. Atmospheric and moving, this is an impressively assured debut.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

I'm the author of two novels -- The Cloud Atlas (um, not that Cloud Atlas; you can read about the merry confusion here: http://bit.ly/on-another-cloud) and All Saints -- and a forthcoming short story collection, Listen and Other Stories. I teach in the English department of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which hosts an awesome creative writing program (to judge from its students, anyway).

I also write shorter things, including essays, short stories, and public radio commentaries (listen in at http://bit.ly/radiofreeliam). I don't write poetry, but envy those who do, and am generally a big fan, which is how I came to create and co-executive produce the Poetry Everywhere animated film series, which you can view on iTunes and Youtube, and found the Eat Local::Read Local program, which distributes local poets' poems to diners at local restaurants during National Poetry Month.

I was born in Washington, DC and grew up in Los Angeles, but now call Wisconsin home, and root for every last one of its teams, especially the Brewers.

That about covers it, but there's more about me, my writing, and even a literary children's guide to Paris at liamcallanan.com. Happy reading!

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
It's refreshing to read a first novel by an author who isn't trapped in his own insular world. This isn't yet another novel about a confused twentysomething trying to make it in the big city. It's a big, brainy, heartfelt novel, set during World War II, that is unashamedly exciting and fun to read. Big ups to Liam Callanan.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. It was haunting and moving, while at the same time telling a fascinating and exciting story from our country's wartime past. It's clear that the writer very thoroughly researched many elements of the novel, including its setting, Alaska, and the audacious attempt by Japan to float bombs to U.S. soil. But Callanan knows another subject even more intimately -- the human heart.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Harold B. Parker on February 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was initially attracted by the subject of balloon bombs and the Alaskan setting. The author's excellent research would have made this book worthwhile for just those two items; however, the plot and the characters are what made this such a treat to read. Callanan has done a masterful job weaving a rich tapestry of human emotion, religion, and mysticism against a fascinating historical background. I hope I do not have to wait too long for his next novel.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By R. Taylor on February 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
do yourself a favor and read this one. Everything about it: the setting, the characters, the language, the love and the tragedy are executed to perfection. I cannot wait to see what this author comes up with next because this is just a unique read. It makes you long for an adventure/experience such as that lived by the characters of the Cloud Atlas.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By N. Farnsworth on March 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Picked this up just because its subjects were both of interest -- WWII and Alaska. Thought I knew everything about the former and always wanted to visit the latter. Turns out this is an intriguing and thoroughly researched novel about a little known but shockingly successful Japanese effort to terrorize the US in late WWII with paper "balloon bombs" -- set in Alaska -- a genuine American frontier. Its got history, mysticism, adventure, interesting characters and Alaska - a hard to beat combination. Highly recommend it!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Wow!!! What a tremendous book! I have read and re-read Cloud Atlas and have thoroughly enjoyed each and every page of this compelling novel. Cloud Atlas is as intriguing and bold as its Alaskan setting and masterfully twists the rigors of the Army and Catholicism with Yupik mysticism and the Northern Lights. Somewhere entwined therein lies the truth. Dare to soar with Cloud Atlas.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Betty Hauphman on January 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Through the twists and turns of the Alaskan tundra-I honestly didn't know where this book was leading me until the last moment. It was a brilliant story about love, war, and the bargains we make with ourselves and others to survive life's tragedies and travails. I found it an especially poignant and engaging work but what distinguishes it as literature and not just another Oprah's book club selection (no offense) is that the it truly resonates and stays with you. The character development is subtle and well crafted. While I didn't appreciate the varied tempo of the plot while reading it, in retrospect, it adds an additional depth and timbre to the book I had missed at first read. I picked up the book on a lark at an airport but am now planning on hosting a book club in an effort to glean new insights and further explore the many layers of this debut novel. But I would have to say that the most moving aspect of this book is the enduring message of pragmatic optimism it espouses which is so hard to find in modern literature. In the interweaving of so many tragic stories and lives broken by war and circumstance, the author magically communicates a message of hope and peace which is a precious treasure in times such as these. I am dying to discuss this book at length with friends and would highly recommend it to anyone.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on October 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
All the accolades I have read about Liam Callanan in the dustjacket of his literary debut, "The Cloud Atlas", are well deserved. This is one of the most impressive debuts in contemporary fiction which I've come across. Callanan deftly weaves an engaging story within another, equally memorable, tale. While elderly Roman Catholic priest Louis Belk watches his friend Ronnie, a Yup'ik Eskimo shaman, die, he begins to reflect on his own experiences as a U. S. Army soldier in the waning days of World War II. He stumbles inadvertently upon a new Japanese secret weapon and is sent to a top secret bomb disposal unit in Alaska. Its commander, Captain Gurney, is a brilliant cross between Conrad's Colonel Kurz and Melville's Captain Ahab, and like both, soon descends into madness. Belk is swept eventually in an intricate, dangerous love triangle with Gurney and Lily, a half Russian, half Yup'ik, fortune teller, with an uncanny ability to see the fate of others, while forsaking her own complex emotions and past lurking within her mind. Callanan is an engaging storyteller and a writer capable of crafting elegant, lyrical prose. I eagerly await reading more of his fiction.
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