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The Cloud Atlas [Paperback]

Liam Callanan
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 26 2004
Set against the magnificent backdrop of Alaska in the waning days of World War II, The Cloud Atlas is an enthralling debut novel, a story of adventure and awakening—and of a young soldier who came to Alaska on an extraordinary, top-secret mission…and found a world that would haunt him forever.

Drifting through the night, whisper-quiet, they were the most sublime manifestations of a desperate enemy: Japanese balloon bombs. Made of rice paper, at once ingenious and deadly, they sailed thousands of miles across the Pacific...and once they started landing, the U.S. scrambled teams to find and defuse them, and then keep them secret from an already anxious public. Eighteen-year-old Louis Belk was one of those men. Dispatched to the Alaskan frontier, young Sergeant Belk was better trained in bomb disposal than in keeping secrets. And the mysteries surrounding his mission only increased when he met his superior officer—a brutal veteran OSS spy hunter who knew all too well what the balloons could do—and Lily, a Yup’ik Eskimo woman who claimed she could see the future.

Louis’s superior ushers him into a world of dark secrets; Lily introduces Louis to an equally disorienting world of spirits—and desire. But the world that finally tests them all is Alaska, whose vastness cloaks mysteries that only become more frightening as they unravel. Chasing after the ghostly floating weapons, Louis embarks upon an adventure that will lead him deep into the tundra. There, on the edge of the endless wilderness, he will make a discovery and a choice that will change the course of his life.

At once a heart-quickening mystery and a unique love story, The Cloud Atlas is also a haunting, lyrical rendering of a little-known chapter in history. Brilliantly imagined, beautifully told, this is storytelling at its very best.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Description

From Amazon

It's hard not to become ensnared by words beginning with the letter B, when attempting to describe Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell's third novel. It's a big book, for start, bold in scope and execution--a bravura literary performance, possibly. (Let's steer clear of breathtaking for now.) Then, of course, Mitchell was among Granta's Best of Young British Novelists and his second novel number9dreamwas shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Characters with birthmarks in the shape of comets are a motif; as are boats. Oh and one of the six narratives strands of the book--where coincidentally Robert Frobisher, a young composer, dreams up "a sextet for overlapping soloists" entitled Cloud Atlas--is set in Belgium, not far from Bruges. (See what I mean?)

Structured rather akin to a Chinese puzzle or a set of Matrioshka dolls, there are dazzling shifts in genre and voice and the stories leak into each other with incidents and people being passed on like batons in a relay race. The 19th-century journals of an American notary in the Pacific that open the novel are subsequently unearthed 80 years later on by Frobisher in the library of the ageing, syphilitic maestro he's trying to fleece. Frobisher's waspish letters to his old Cambridge crony, Rufus Sexsmith, in turn surface when Rufus, (by the 1970s a leading nuclear scientist) is murdered. A novelistic account of the journalist Luisa Rey's investigation into Rufus' death finds its way to Timothy Cavendish, a London vanity publisher with an author who has an ingenious method of silencing a snide reviewer. And in a near-dystopian Blade Runner-esque future, a genetically engineered fast food waitress sees a movie based on Cavendish's unfortunate internment in a Hull retirement home. (Cavendish himself wonders how a director called Lars might wish to tackle his plight). All this is less tricky than it sounds, only the lone "Zachary" chapter, told in Pacific Islander dialect (all "dingos'n'ravens", "brekker" and "f'llowin'"s) is an exercise in style too far. Not all the threads quite connect but nonetheless Mitchell binds them into a quite spellbinding rumination on human nature, power, oppression, race, colonialism and consumerism. --Travis Elborough --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

At once audacious, dazzling, pretentious and infuriating, Mitchell's third novel weaves history, science, suspense, humor and pathos through six separate but loosely related narratives. Like Mitchell's previous works, Ghostwritten and number9dream (which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize), this latest foray relies on a kaleidoscopic plot structure that showcases the author's stylistic virtuosity. Each of the narratives is set in a different time and place, each is written in a different prose style, each is broken off mid-action and brought to conclusion in the second half of the book. Among the volume's most engaging story lines is a witty 1930s-era chronicle, via letters, of a young musician's effort to become an amanuensis for a renowned, blind composer and a hilarious account of a modern-day vanity publisher who is institutionalized by a stroke and plans a madcap escape in order to return to his literary empire (such as it is). Mitchell's ability to throw his voice may remind some readers of David Foster Wallace, though the intermittent hollowness of his ventriloquism frustrates. Still, readers who enjoy the "novel as puzzle" will find much to savor in this original and occasionally very entertaining work.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Amazon's synopsis does not match this book April 7 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The synopsis for Liam Callanan's "The Cloud Atlas" is actually the synopsis for David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas". Read it - it actually names the wrong author. Very misleading. Hope Amazon will correct this soon.
When I ordered this book, I thought I was getting the book described. My own fault for not paying better attention, but we were very disappointed with this order. I am now placing an order for the book I really wanted, which is David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas".
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5.0 out of 5 stars "I always asked that He make me aware" May 7 2004
By A Customer
Memory, history, war, love, and the spirit world are woven together in a type of effortless dreamscape in Liam Callanan's beautiful The Cloud Atlas. As a work of fiction grounded in fact, the story is unsurpassed in its portrayal of the effects of the Japanese balloon bombs, which swept across the Pacific to the United States during the remaining months of World War 11. One of the best kept secrets of the War involved some 9,000 balloons made of paper or rubberized silk and carrying anti-personnel and incendiary bombs were launched from Japan during a five-month period, to be carried by high altitude winds more than 6,000 miles eastward across the Pacific to North America
Told in the first person as a type of confessional, the main protagonist Louis Belk is now an elderly priest who sits by the bedside of Ronnie a Yup'ik shaman. Ronnie is dying from too much drinking; he's a failure, a drifter who feels that all the knowledge of the world is contained in the skies, and "in an atlas of the clouds." As he watches his friend die, Louis begins to reflect on his own life as a top-secret bomb disposal specialist during World War 11 in Alaska. The focus of the story is on Louis's adventures in wartime Alaska where half-naked palm readers, rampaging drunken sailors, and lunatic captains rave in darkened Quonset huts. Where chaplains swear like stevedores and Eskimo women "can tease your entire past from your hand."
While in Alaska, Louis is placed under the command of the sadistic and bitter Captain Gurley - having already lost a limb diffusing his first bomb, and embittered at being stationed in Alaska - he has an obsession to discover and collect all such bombs in the future. As the novel progresses Gurley gradually descends into a type of madness.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great read! March 16 2004
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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5.0 out of 5 stars A great start for the author Feb. 9 2004
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Up, Up and Away Feb. 4 2004
By A Customer
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Wow... April 22 2004
An absolutely masterful blending of history, fiction, and the fantastic. An amazing debut, with characters that are fully fleshed out, and narrative that transports the reader into a wonderful adventure with little/no need for suspension of disbelief. At times, Callanan's prose reminded me of Mark Helprin's "Winter's Tale" or "A Soldier of the Great War". Beautiful stuff.
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