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Cloudsplitter [Paperback]

Russell Banks
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

20 Nov 2006
Owen Brown is the last surviving son of America's most famous political terrorist, John Brown, who in 1859 raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, intending to galvanise the Southern slaves into rebellion. Now Owen tells John's story. This incredible novel recreates pre-Civil War America, when slavery was tearing the country apart, and tells of one man's passage from abolitionist to guerrilla fighter and, finally, martyr. Cloudsplitter is a dazzling, suspenseful, heartbreaking story filled with both intimate scenes of domestic life and chilling violence.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (20 Nov 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074758530X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747585305
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 287,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

The cover of Russell Banks' mountain-sized novel Cloudsplitter features an actual photo of Owen Brown, the son of John Brown, hero of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". His terrorist band murdered proponents of slavery in Kansas and attacked Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859 on what he considered direct orders from God, helping spark the American Civil War.

A heavily researched but fictionalised Owen narrates this remarkably realistic and ambitious novel by the distinguished author ofThe Sweet Hereafter. Owen is an atheist, but he is as dominated by his father, John Brown, as John was haunted by the angry God who demanded human sacrifice to stop the abomination of slavery.

Cloudsplitter takes you along on John Brown's journey-- as period-perfect as that of the Civil War deserter in Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain--from Brown's cabin facing the great Adirondack mountain (whose Native American name is "Cloudsplitter"), amid an abolitionist settlement called "Timbuctoo", to the various perilous stops of the Underground Railroad spiriting slaves out of the South, and finally to the killings in Bloody Kansas and the Harpers Ferry revolt. We meet some great names--Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson and a (fictional) lover of Nathaniel Hawthorne--but the vast book keeps a tight focus on the aged Owen's obsessive recollections of his Pa's crusade and the emotional shackles John clamped on his own family.

Banks, a white author, has tackled the topic of race as impressively as Toni Morrison does in earlier novels such as Continental Drift. What makes Cloudsplitter a departure for him is its style and scope. He is noted as an exceptionally thorough chronicler of today's USA in rigorously detailed realist fiction such as David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars) which Banks championed. Banks spent half a decade researching Cloudsplitter, and he renounces the conventional magic of his poetical prose style for a voice steeped in the King James Bible and the stately cadences of 19th-century political rhetoric. The tone is closer to Ken Burns' tragic, elegiac The Civil War than to Bruce Olds' recent crazy-quilt modernist novel about John Brown, Raising Holy Hell.

A fan of Banks' more cut-to-the-chase, Hollywood- hot modern style may get impatient, but such readers can turn to, say, Gore Vidal's reissued Lincoln, which peeks into the Great Emancipator's head with a modern's cynical wit. Banks' narrator is poetical and witty at times: Owen notes, "The outrage felt by whites [over slavery] was mostly spent on stoking their own righteousness and warming themselves before its fire." Yet in the main, Banks writes in the "elaborately plainspoken" manner of the Browns, restricting himself to a sober style dictated by the historical subject.

John Brown's head resembles the stone tablets of Moses. You do not penetrate him, and you cannot declare him mad or sane, good or evil. You read, struggling to locate the words emanating from some strange place between history, heaven and hell. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


`A splendid epic ... a marvellous book' -- Time Out

`A startling work of vision ... A great American novel' -- Independent

`An utterly compelling story, a tragedy of near-classic
proportions with extraordinary resonances'
-- Financial Times

`Cloudsplitter is a masterwork' -- New Yorker

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine piece of writing 26 Jun 2000
When reading a novel we all have a bias. I'm aware that this is quite a generalisation but in most cases I feel it's reasonably realistic. My personal bias has typically been against fiction written in the first person. While I value the subtle nature of this style often I've found that it leads to the thoughts of the charecter flooding the actions of that person.
So it was with some reservations that I picked up Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks. Some 758 pages later Banks had gently led me away from some of my preconceptions. Here is a piece of writing that uses the first person narrative to great effect. Taking the thoughts and actions of Owen Brown - son of John Brown - as it's focus the novel is an enthralling read.
Although the author makes it clear that the book is a work of imagination, the depth of conviction within the writing often lends itself to the belief that the words are autobiographical in nature.
You've obviously read the offical overview of the book thus there is no need for me to comment on that here. Rather, it's the structure, the studied use of language, the emotion and the "feel" of this book that makes it without doubt a splendid and captivating read.
I always struggle with a 5 star review - it's got to reach perfection to gain five stars and I'm not sure perfection exists. Cloudsplitter, however comes very close. You will enjoy this book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brings history to vivid life. Essential reading 11 Dec 1999
An utterly gripping and convincing novel, which tells you more about the American civil war than Gone with the Wind and any number of gung-ho 19th-century westerns put together. The character of John Brown is drawn in great, perceptive detail, and the choice of his troubled, idealistic son Owen as narrator is inspired, allowing us a clear analysis of the political and social factors behind slavery and its opponents. Looked at another way, the narrator may be a bit of a windbag, but he tells the story beautifully. The structure of the novel - it is essentially one long flashback - also gives it strength. Don't be put off by the size of this book: it's a smooth, haunting, educational journey, and it must be read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars This is a big book in every sense! 12 Aug 1999
By A Customer
This massive novel is a fictionalised account of the life of the radical abolitionist John Brown, as told 50 years after his death, by his son Owen.
Owen's memories initially flit around in a confusing (but believable) manner, but the narrative gradually gains focus and eventually develops a powerful drive towards the climactic Harpers' Ferry incident.
I knew nothing about Brown when I started this book (apart from the words of the song). Banks stresses that this is a work of fiction, so I don't know how closely it follows the facts, but this scarcely matters because this book operates on so many levels, and raises many questions which are still relevant about race and sex, about masculinity, violence and the roots of the 'gun culture', about political extremism and religion, about family loyalty versus individualism, etc., etc.
John Brown exerts a dominating influence on Owen and on the events of the novel, but this book is really a complex and convincing psychological study of Owen himself.
Aside from all this, it's a terrifically evocative read about the period leading up to the Civil War, packed with description, incident and characters. It's maybe a little bit too long - particularly Owen's self-justification to his contemporary reader.
And the title is a bit of a let down - apart from the period and setting, this has little in common with 'Cold Mountain'. Banks' mountain anyway makes only an occasional appearance, presumably to justify the title.
But these are minor quibbles - I was completely gripped throughout these 750 pages.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This book takes you deep into the life of John Brown, with a colorful, suspenseful and, at times, violently realistic tone that makes this 750+ page book read very quickly and remain transported in 1850s America for long after the book is finished. For those who say that this book is "boring", perhaps you could find your way to the Dan Brown thriller section, stopping at the spelling-test checkpoint, and leave serious literature to people who actually enjoy reading...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and convincing 18 July 1999
By A Customer
This book is at pains to point out that this is a fictionalisation of this man's life. Nevertheless it paints a convincing portrait of the Brown family and their motivations. While the slow might present itself as excessively sober, it is this tone that draws you in and makes the unwinding tale so very convincing. I raced through it - and recommend it as one of the best books of the year.
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