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The Cloud Atlas Paperback – October 26, 2004
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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.
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Top customer reviews
I had no idea that this book even existed until I saw the trailer for the movie. I had read about the movie and the book's unique structure, and knew I had to read it.
I was afraid that the connections between the six stories would either be really obscure and hard to find, or that they would be glaringly obvious. I was glad to discover that there are all sorts of connections. Some are glaringly obvious, some are very subtle, and some read like throwaway lines until the whole book is read.
Someone else mentioned that they started rereading the book the minute they finished it. I will do the same. I have already read the book one-and-a-half times; I had to reread the first part to fully appreciate the second part of each story when they worked backward through the book.
One thing that surprised me is the different genres of each of the six stories. Each is written in a different style that works for that particular story.
Another thing that surprised me is how moving some of the stories were.
To sum up, this book works on many different levels and is a definite must-read. Of course, now I have to see the movie!
Although it says I read the paperback, I actually read this on the Amazon Kindle Fire. It really helped being able to instantly look up obscure words, to search for phrases in the book (to see where I had read that name before in another story), and to look up, say, a map of the Chatham Islands so I had a better understanding of that particular story.
Briefly, however: the novel consists of six very different stories (a nineteenth century travelogue, a 1930s melodrama, a hardboiled detective story, a British comedy, a cyberpunk story and a postapocalyptic thriller), each one interrupting the previous one throughout the first half of the book, and then resuming in opposite order throughout the second half. This means that for the first half, characters and plots and settings keep piling up until you can barely keep track of them anymore - and then, as one story after another gets resolved, it becomes obvious that they are all about the same thing; cruelty and kindness, victims and victimisers, the ever-presence of savagery and the surprising endurance of decency and hope.
It's a powerful novel, though perhaps not the easiest one to read. It is recommended to anyone with a patience for sudden shifts in style and themes that only make sense very late in the game, and who want to see how the same ideas can be expressed not only through different stories, but through very different types of stories.
Most recent customer reviews
I hope more people will read The Cloud Atlas by Liam Callanon.Read more