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Cloud Splitter

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  2,809 ratings  ·  313 reviews
A complex portrait of a 19th-century rural American family. The novel tells the story of one man's passage from slavery abolitionist to guerilla fighter to terrorist and martyr. Narrated by the abolitionist's son, Owen, the book recreates the political and social landscape of pre-Civil War America.
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published February 17th 1998 by Reed Tr Ito (first published 1998)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Krok Zero
Finally finished this ginormous tome, after dipping in and out of it for months. I have mixed feelings. Subject matter's fascinating, of course: radical abolitionist and Christian fundamentalist John Brown raises his family to be a cult of anti-slavery soldiers, culminating in the failed attempt at a slave revolt in Harpers Ferry, VA, one of the big "road to the Civil War" events in your American history textbooks. The big unasked/unanswered question the book poses is this: why did it take a rel ...more
Snotchocheez
"Cloudsplitter", a fictional novel about the the abolitionist John Brown, is as painful to review as it is (at times) to read. Clearly this 750+ page behemoth is a labor of love for author Russell Banks: as exhaustive and as detailed as the events in John Brown's life are depicted, you can't help but feel that Banks lived, sleeped, breathed...well, completely inhabited John Brown and his family (particularly, the narrator, his third son Owen Brown). The book, however, is simultaneously beautiful ...more
Stephen Wallant
I just think you NEED to understand something. OK this book is just great. Now now we all know the Reserve sucked ass. And I said The Darling was great and it was but this was A THOUSAND TIMES BETTER! There are not enough stars in all of the rating systems in all the world to say what a great novel we have on our hands here.

Cloudsplitter is the English translation of the Iroquois word for Mount Marcy, the tallest mountain of the Adirondacks. Really incredible up there. So Banks has some descrip
...more
Samantha
I first discovered Russell Banks when I encountered Lost Memory of Skin about a year ago. Topically they're very different, but a major commonality is Banks's acuity in depicting the lives of outsiders. "Cloudsplitter" is a historical novel about the radical abolitionist John Brown and his gradual metamorphosis from a deeply religious family man (and failed businessman) staunchly opposed to slavery to the man who led a failed attack on Harper's Ferry. It is told from the perspective of Brown's t ...more
Wilhelmina Jenkins
I'm between a four and a five star rating, but I'll go for the five. This book was an amazing ride. As long a book as this was, I never wanted to stop reading.
Larry Bassett
Jan 11, 2014 Larry Bassett marked it as temporarily-set-aside  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of a white man who gave his life in an effort to save the black man. The story is about John Brown and is told by his son, Owen, the last surviving member of the family. He tells the story so that history will get it right when it decides if his father’s zeal to abolish slavery was caused in part by his insanity.

Chapter One: Owen introduces himself and tells some about his family, early life and why he has decided to tell his story which is really his father’s story, so many y
...more
Ned Mozier
Historical fiction doesn't always work for me, but this was superb, and all subsequent Russell Banks haven't quite lived up to it (for me anyway). Hearing the story from the less gifted son, Owen, of the abolitionist John Brown, really worked in this novel. Much has been written of the history of John Brown, but understanding what was really underneath those powerful contradictions and that drive is something that a novel is perhaps best suited for. The artistry of language and father/son tensio ...more
Paula
Another DNF. I had been warned that the book was not only long but long winded, so I downloaded the audio version to listen while stuck in traffic or raking leaves to avoid the risk of being put to sleep reading late at night.

It didnt help. After two hours of landscape descriptions and the narrator's thoughts about how they reminded him of every detail of insignificant reminders of his family with absolutely no hint of a plot- except that he was reluctant to get to the meat of the matter, I cho
...more
Erin
I got into an argument not too long ago - the topic being who, in recent reading memory can write the best run-on sentences.

Obviously, I am nominating Russell Banks - who I think trumps his Thomas Mann. Simply for the fact that Banks' run-on sentences send you gliding through a dreamy earthy passage as you tear through the life and times of John Brown and suddenly you realize you have ripped through almost 800 pages in under a week of bedtime readings and find yourself missing the ride.

Anyway, d
...more
Jean Higham
Cloudsplitter by Russel Banks

History appeals to me most when the players are presented as three-dimensional people instead of flat characters composed of little more than names and dates. Though it surely warps the truth and fills the gaps with deliberate lies, I like historical fiction. In that no account of an event of historical importance is complete without subjective commentary and analysis, the truth doesn't have to be any more sullied if documented as fiction. The memorable details of th
...more
Johnny D
“It is better to be in a place and suffer wrong than to do wrong” – Owen Brown’s last words.

Historians can never agree about whether John Brown was a madman, a terrorist, a religious fanatic, a prophet, a poetic hero, or some complex combination of all of these things. Personally, I think that John Brown is the most fascinating character in American history. I find the unwavering egalitarianism of John Brown to be inspirational. He lived his life by a higher code, unfazed by the tide of opinion
...more
Richard
This has been on my 'must read' shelf ever since it was published. A sort of "True History of the Brown Gang," it is told from the point of view of one of John Brown's sons, Owen. I'm guessing Russell Banks thought third person would not work because it would not be intense enough, and the first person pov of the great abolitionist himself would not work because (a) he was nuts, and (b) we need to be able to look back on him after his death. I'm not sure these were the right decisions: Owen's pu ...more
Brian
This is the first book by Russell Banks that I've read, but I've seen two decent movies based on other novels, Affliction and The Sweet Hereafter, both are which are set in contemporary Northeastern rural communities, his more common milieu apparently. Cloudsplitter, however, is a historical novel about John Brown and is told through the voice of his third-oldest son, Owen. While it is a fascinating re-creation of America in the 1840s and 50s, it is also an up-close-and personal look at a family ...more
Marika
I'm picking this for some pretty odd reasons:
1) it's been hanging around on the shelf for awhile. Time to bite the bullet and give it a go.
2) bite the bullet? Yes, it is 758 pages long. I can't let Emma be the only person in the house that reads bricks.
3) It is historical fiction, which is different than history-making fiction (Frankenstein) or hysterical fiction (Johannes Cabal).
4) While still about the Civil war (ish), it might be more to my liking than March.

I figure this one I can definitely
...more
Omar Muniz
Other reviewers have summarized this book better than I can, so I'll only offer this. I enjoyed this book. But I enjoyed it like a picky eater enjoys a meal. Cloudsplitter is a big juicy burger and before ever biting into it, I knew it was going to be really tasty. It looked great. And though very good, I could only enjoy it by picking out some of the onions and scraping off the pickles. What I mean to say is, the book does drone on too long, especially that first chapter. You would understand t ...more
Michael Lackey
This is a brilliant work, one that offers a new way of understanding John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. Owen Brown is the narrator, and, as it turns out, the puppet master, pulling his father's strings. Cloudsplitter is a biographical novel in the tradition of Arna Bontemps' Black Thunder and William Styron's Confessions of Nat Turner in that it documents the motivation for staging a revolt against slavery. But Banks' novel has an Anna Karenina feel about it--a massive effort to articulate the ...more
Julie
Mar 21, 2008 Julie rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: masochists
How this book ranks as a New York Times Book Review "Editors' Choice" is beyond me. At 758 pages, it's about 600 pages too long, making me think Banks must have some sort of auteur cred with his publisher that allows him to demand no editor lay hands on his oeuvre.

This is fiction, so I realize it doesn't have to be a biography-level work on abolitionist John Brown, but let's try for something at least marginally more than superficial character depiction. I mean give him some bad habits, a nervo
...more
Vicki
Russell Banks won readers' hearts in 1991 with "The Sweet Hereafter". He tackled painful subject matter and populated his story with a cast of damaged, thorny characters. He wrapped it all with a troubling conclusion that somehow had a perverse sense of redemption.

A reader might be predisposed on the basis of that fine accomplishment to assume that only Russell Banks could take on the towering figure of real-life abolitionist John Brown and take him beyond history textbook admirable, and make t
...more
Ann
What did I think? I thought it was long.
Was the story worthy of 700+ pages? Almost!
Russell Banks' books tend to take time to weave the reader into the fabric of the story he's telling. Owen Brown's - son the the abolitionist John Brown - story is no different.
John Brown must have been a fierce, fanatical, and totally charasmatic historical figure. He most certainly was both God and Satan to his son Owen.
This is ultimately Owen's story as he grapples with his desires for personal freedom and hi
...more
Florence
Was John Brown, the fervid abolitionist a terrorist or a visionary? This fictionalized portrait of his life as told by a surviving son draws no definite conclusion. John Brown, after failing as a farmer and a businessman, dedicated his life to ending slavery. He preached of the great evil to anyone who would listen and had contempt for white abolitionists who weren't ready to shed blood for the cause of emanicipation. Details of daily life in mid nineteenth century were vivid. Homesteading a few ...more
Beth
I really tried with this book, and I just have to give up after about 450 pages. This was my first attempt to read Russell Banks, and maybe it was a poor choice, but I am just not impressed with his writing. It was frequently clunky, repetitive, and it seemed to me that the main character/narrator focused on minutiae yet never truly created a sense of place. I can understand that this was key to the characterization of Owen, a boy-man so lacking in self-awareness or identity that he'd be a prime ...more
Amerynth
Sprawling historical novel that follows the tale of Owen Brown, the son of John Brown, the abolitionist that led the raid at Harper's Ferry. The story is really bogged down in pages and pages of useless detail (nearly 30 pages describing the family's financial situation in Ohio....) that quickly becomes repetitive. Oddly enough the novel suffers from the opposite problem too, it jumps to a new storyline with no build up whatsoever. (Owen suddenly beats up a man on his farm, for no apparent reaso ...more
Mike  Davis
This is a huge (750p) fictional novel written about the Brown family and John Brown, the abolitionist, from the viewpoint of his third son Owen Brown. It is a study in personality and the slippery slope from religious fanaticism to terror and homicide in the name of anti-slave rebellion. Written somewhat as a memoir of Owen Brown, the only surviving Brown, the book is well written and philosophically rich. From the Kansas uprising to Harper's Ferry, the pace is good and the book is hard to put d ...more
Jonathan Roth
A compelling account of the life of radical abolitionist John Brown narrated by his son Owen, the last surviving member of the Brown family. The book is written from Owen's personal perspective at the end of his life 40 years after the raid on Harper's Ferry (a major flash point on the road to the Civil War). Incredibly well-researched, Cloudsplitter is in my opinion a must-read for those interested in American life in the decades leading up to the Civil War. I would also argue that from a pure ...more
Abby
A gorgeously written (and sympathetic) portrait of the controversial abolitionist John Brown, presented from the vantage point of his son Owen. I'm surprised that I haven't heard more about Russell Banks; he's a gifted stylist and storyteller. The novel starts out in a slow and murky way, but it certainly rewards those who keep reading. I think it was a bit longer than it needed to be, but I came to enjoy Owen's narration so much that I didn't mind. There was lots to think about here, regarding ...more
TSD
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shirley
Reading this book was a challenge at first. It's my first Russell Banks, and it took me awhile to get into the rhythm of it. The next thing I knew I was at page 400 and couldn't stop.

It's a tome, and it's an incredibly in depth story about fanaticism - and slavery. It's a great historical perspective of our country, and more information than I had encountered before on the Kansas Free State struggle.

The themes are family, race and religion and all are taken to the extreme. And yet, John Brown (
...more
Lydia Lewis
Chapter 5 begins, "I don't know how much time has passed since I began this account - days, weeks, a fortnight - for it is as if I have been elsewhere, a place where time is measured differently and space is not bounded as it usually is." That's how I felt reading this. Rave reviews, Editor's choice! How could this be true? If it had been edited down by 2/3rds it would then have been an awesome book. Redundancy abounded.
Doug
Cloudsplitter takes 100 pages to get legible and then becomes a beauty. The umbrella story, a history by Owen Brown of life in John Brown's family/army, didn't work well for me but the prose and the contents of that history captured my imagination. I've given or lent the book a few times and nobody so far got through the 100 page basic training, but all want to find Miss Mayo and brain her for distracting both authors.
Julia Aff
Despite liking previous Russell Banks books, I found Cloudsplitter extremely long and tedious. There were some profound passages, but for the most part I found the content boring and a waste of words. It was a long book which I feel could have been told in half the length. Surprised it was on the list of "1,000 Books You Should Read Before You Die"
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Russell Banks is a member of the International Parliament of Writers and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous international prizes and awards. He has written fiction, and more recently, non-fiction, with Dreaming up America. His main works include the novels Continental Drift, Rule of the Bone, Cloudsplit ...more
More about Russell Banks...
Rule of the Bone The Sweet Hereafter Lost Memory of Skin Affliction Continental Drift

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“If you yourself are not a victim, you cannot claim to see the world as the victim does.” 0 likes
“Of all the animals on this planet, we are surely the nastiest, the most deceitful, the most murderous and vile. Despite our God, or because of him. Both.” 0 likes
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