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The Clouds Beneath the Sun: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 27, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1 edition (July 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385529112
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385529112
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,836,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

If you like your romance and intrigue with a dash of history and academia, this novel is the book for you! In 1961, the young and beautiful Ph.D. Natalie Nelson flees her Cambridge home, the recent death of her mother, and a failed romance to join an anthropological dig in Kenya. Once there, Natalie is thrown into a murder mystery, a paleontological mystery, and, of course, one or more new romances. The romance and personal relationships are interesting, but the characters never seem to overcome their historical baggage to fully come to life. Ford is the pseudonym of a well-known historian, but a postscript confuses the issue of whether the book is fiction, or fictionalized history. --Marta Segal Block


"Ford has a talent for storytelling . . . One of 2010's best novels so far."
San Antonio Express-News

"Set against the beautiful backdrop of the African desert, The Clouds Beneath the Sun skillfully blends historical facts, mystery and romance to create a novel that is both interesting and intellectual . . . Fast-paced and full of rich characters . . . a stimulating read."
The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)

"A fascinating, morally ambiguous novel that juxtaposes the ambitions of the scientific community of outsiders against the sensitivities of the native cultures whose riches they unearth. Cinematic descriptions of the land and its people imply an intimate knowledge of the African continent: readers will hear and smell the giraffe, antelope, leopards, and elephants that roam the plain . . . Highly recommended."
Library Journal, Starred Review

"If you like your romance and intrigue with a dash of history and academia, this novel is the book for you!"

Praise for Gifts of War

“An absorbing, morally complex read.”
USA Today

“Ford keeps the reader on a knife’s edge as the lies build and the truth is only a word or misstep away. Highly recommended.”
Library Journal, starred review

“Ford combines the intrigue and tension of military intelligence with an affecting portrayal of a challenging love affair . . . [Gifts of War] succeeds on many levels.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

More About the Author

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Customer Reviews

The "love" affair could not have been any more unemotional.
I am not one of those readers that has to have a happy ending everytime, but this one stinks.
The characters in this book are one dimensional and the story repetitive.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Silver's Reviews on July 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
An archeologist excavation in Kenya filled with brilliant paleontologists is the setting of the book...the characters' work, cultural differences, and inter-personal relationships encompasses the main plot. In the first few pages the main character, Natalie Nelson, is on her way from Cambridge University to the camp, and she comes across a herd of elephants actually carrying out a mourning ritual...her first glimpse of the mesmerizing sights and sounds of Africa. The descriptions of the wildlife in Africa and the land itself was vividly and beautifully described by Mackenzie Ford.

When Natalie does arrive at the camp site, she is happy to see everyone has his/her own tent with private bath facilities. This is especially comforting the following evening since she didn't get a warm welcome at dinner as a result of her being the novice paleontologist and making a comment that was viewed as criticism of one of the veteran archeologists.

Just as things got better with that situation, and as the excavating continued, two veteran paleontologists, Richard and Russell, do something unthinkable, and a murder occurs. The sole witness happens to be Natalie. Natalie tries to relax and forget about the trial each night with a drink and a cigarette while listening to the African animals that circle the camp. The trial gets pretty complicated and worrisome for Natalie....a plea made to the Maasai chief concerning the trial is denied....the legal and cultural issues are of the utmost concern.

The book was a little slow, but does become a lot better in terms of "action" as you turn the pages to the final chapters....
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Format: Hardcover
It was in the chaotic Africa of the early 1960s that the organization known as KANU arranged independence talks in Kenya, in anticipation of forming a Republic to achieve independence from British governance. This must have been a momentous event to witness, even with the friction of overstressed race relations. Tribal groups such as the Kikuyu and the Maasai had long rejected foreign influence and policies, keeping to their own laws and their own lands. But planted firmly within these lands were also scientists who made important discoveries, chief among these being the Oldupai Gorge in the Serengeti Plains. This is an actual place given the title "The Cradle of Mankind," where hominid specimens were found and considered prime proof of a singular evolutionary origin for humans.

The story begins in this climate in 1961, where British archaeologist Natalie Nelson sets off for Kenya from Cambridge. Natalie's interest relates to a particular dig she's been invited to, where she'll be part of a team that includes some impressive individuals. The foremost is Eleanor Deacon, the most known name in the field, who boasts frequent sightings of hominid fossils at the gorge where she works. But Natalie has other reasons for leaving too: she's been discarded by her lover and rejected by her father after her mother's suicide. The turmoil of Natalie's private life has left her with nothing to keep her grounded.

Upon Natalie's arrival at the gorge, she joins the team and labors by day in the sweltering heat and dust of the dig site. Her free time in camp becomes uncomfortable once it's clear that she's become the object of obsession for some of her male colleagues. But her motivations are simple: to work, so it comes as a relief when the breakthroughs begin.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Allison M. Campbell on August 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Books don't often shock me. I read so much that I seem to be in tune with the narrative flow, I see plot twists coming from miles away, and I'm good at spotting foreshadowing. However, in his second novel, Mackenzie Ford has created a story of such surprising richness that I closed it on the last page, then promptly began thinking if the surprises were fair, if they had been foreshadowed. I had to conclude that I had fair warning of the plot developments all the way through, which makes The Clouds Beneath the Sun all the more extraordinary. In fact, some events were foreshadowed, but I discounted them as impossible to pull off in a realistic fashion. How delighted I was to have been mistaken.

The book opens with Natalie Nelson taking her newly minted Cambridge Ph.D and broken heart to her first dig, in Kenya. Ford (a nom de plume for historian Peter Watson) eases us into the setting with Natalie passing elephants involved in a mourning ritual on the way to the remote camp. I actually had trouble getting into the book at first. An archaeological dig in 1961 Kenya is not an easy setting to evoke, and the "Attention: You Are Now In the 1960s!" details did not feel as effortlessly part of the story as the history and political climate of Kenya. (Examples: that newfangled birth control pill, friends of Natalie's who (gasp) live with men instead of marrying, Natalie's parents utter shock at her disastrous affair with a married man, the publication of Lolita, talk of men going to the moon.) And Natalie's mooning about Dom, her lover, is a bit overdone. However, once I'd made it through the set-up, I could not put this book down. Ford's Kenya is beautiful, vibrant, and complex, so well-drawn that I had no difficulty visualizing it. He lays out the political climate neatly.
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