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A triumph of the imagination and a masterpiece of modern storytelling, Cloudsplitter is narrated by the enigmatic Owen Brown, last surviving son of America's most famous and still controversial political terrorist and martyr, John Brown. Deeply researched, brilliantly plotted, and peopled with a cast of unforgettable characters both historical and wholly invented, Cloudsplitter is dazzling in its re-creation of the political and social landscape of our history during the years before the Civil War, when slavery was tearing the country apart. But within this broader scope, Russell Banks has given us a riveting, suspenseful, heartbreaking narrative filled with intimate scenes of domestic life, of violence and action in battle, of romance and familial life and death that make the reader feel in astonishing ways what it is like to be alive in that time.

Topics: United States of America, Race Relations, Suspenseful, Heartbreaking, Civil War Period, American Civil War, Family, Underground Railroad, Slavery, Fathers, and First Person Narration

Published: HarperCollins on Jan 1, 1998
ISBN: 9780062123183
List price: $4.99
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Aside from its daunting size (well over 700 pages) this was a treat to read. Owen Brown, the third of John Brown's sons, tells the story of his father's controversial life, beginning with his own childhood. Cloudsplitter opens with a written apology to Miss Mayo, a young Columbia University student who had been rebuffed by Owen after she traveled to his remote mountainside home in Altadena, California in hopes of an interview. After chasing Miss Mayo away Owen is feeling the pressures of mortality, for he is not a young man, and decides to tell his entire story from start to finish. While he is apparently ambivalent to his father's tragic path of life he is also deeply reflective, detailing the process of how his father become of of history's most complex antislavery agitators and martyrs. Seeing as how Cloudsplitter is told from the point of view of one of John Brown's sons it is safe to say the story was not meant to be yet another retelling of the famous yet failed raid on Harper's Ferry. It is more accurately an illustration of how one man's beliefs can grow to become the catalyst for one of the most well known events in the anti-slave movement. While Banks' style of writing is, at times, rambling and contradictory (a reflection of Owen's ability to tell the story) he is able to seamlessly weave nonfiction into fiction; reality into imagined to create a vivid political and cultural 19th century landscape.read more
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This novel is a historical novel in sheep's clothing. What, you may ask, do I mean by that? The title of the novel, Cloudsplitter(1998, finalist for Pulitzer and PEN/Faulkner), suggests that this may well be a biographical novel depicting the life of John Brown, and to a certain extent it is just that; but it is primarily a historical novel about the the antebellum period in America focusing on the Abolitionist movement and John Brown's role in that movement. The insights into the different aspects of abolitionism provide fascinating reading. For example, in his portrayal of Brown in Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks shows how Brown is more interested in the mighty sword than the ringing word. After listening with his son, Owen, to one of Emerson's talks in Boston, Brown walks out on the Sage of Concord while the sophisticated crowd applauds wildly: "That man's truly a boob!" Father blurted. "For the life of me, I can't understand his fame. Unless the whole world is just as foolish as he is. Godless? He's not even rational! You'd think, given his godlessness, his sec-u-laahr-ity, he'd be at least rational," he said, and gave a sardonic laugh. The book is filled with such detail about abolitionism and this makes it a worthwhile read. However, I found that, in spite of its length, the novel ultimately disappointed in its limited portrayal of the most famous episode in Brown's life, the raid on Harper's Ferry. Thus the reader who picks up Cloudsplitter expecting all the details of the life of the epynomous historical figure may be, as I was, somewhat disappointed by the end of the book.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Cloudsplitter, the name of the mountain in the Adirondacks that Brown's cabin faced, and where he is buried. An abolitionist who organized a bloody raid on the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, W.Virginia, Brown is credited with adding a spark to the flame that became the Civil War. Much of this fictional biography is excellent - as one might expect of Banks - but as the narrative closes in on the signature event the narrative gets repetitive and I found myself skimming.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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Reviews

Aside from its daunting size (well over 700 pages) this was a treat to read. Owen Brown, the third of John Brown's sons, tells the story of his father's controversial life, beginning with his own childhood. Cloudsplitter opens with a written apology to Miss Mayo, a young Columbia University student who had been rebuffed by Owen after she traveled to his remote mountainside home in Altadena, California in hopes of an interview. After chasing Miss Mayo away Owen is feeling the pressures of mortality, for he is not a young man, and decides to tell his entire story from start to finish. While he is apparently ambivalent to his father's tragic path of life he is also deeply reflective, detailing the process of how his father become of of history's most complex antislavery agitators and martyrs. Seeing as how Cloudsplitter is told from the point of view of one of John Brown's sons it is safe to say the story was not meant to be yet another retelling of the famous yet failed raid on Harper's Ferry. It is more accurately an illustration of how one man's beliefs can grow to become the catalyst for one of the most well known events in the anti-slave movement. While Banks' style of writing is, at times, rambling and contradictory (a reflection of Owen's ability to tell the story) he is able to seamlessly weave nonfiction into fiction; reality into imagined to create a vivid political and cultural 19th century landscape.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This novel is a historical novel in sheep's clothing. What, you may ask, do I mean by that? The title of the novel, Cloudsplitter(1998, finalist for Pulitzer and PEN/Faulkner), suggests that this may well be a biographical novel depicting the life of John Brown, and to a certain extent it is just that; but it is primarily a historical novel about the the antebellum period in America focusing on the Abolitionist movement and John Brown's role in that movement. The insights into the different aspects of abolitionism provide fascinating reading. For example, in his portrayal of Brown in Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks shows how Brown is more interested in the mighty sword than the ringing word. After listening with his son, Owen, to one of Emerson's talks in Boston, Brown walks out on the Sage of Concord while the sophisticated crowd applauds wildly: "That man's truly a boob!" Father blurted. "For the life of me, I can't understand his fame. Unless the whole world is just as foolish as he is. Godless? He's not even rational! You'd think, given his godlessness, his sec-u-laahr-ity, he'd be at least rational," he said, and gave a sardonic laugh. The book is filled with such detail about abolitionism and this makes it a worthwhile read. However, I found that, in spite of its length, the novel ultimately disappointed in its limited portrayal of the most famous episode in Brown's life, the raid on Harper's Ferry. Thus the reader who picks up Cloudsplitter expecting all the details of the life of the epynomous historical figure may be, as I was, somewhat disappointed by the end of the book.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Cloudsplitter, the name of the mountain in the Adirondacks that Brown's cabin faced, and where he is buried. An abolitionist who organized a bloody raid on the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, W.Virginia, Brown is credited with adding a spark to the flame that became the Civil War. Much of this fictional biography is excellent - as one might expect of Banks - but as the narrative closes in on the signature event the narrative gets repetitive and I found myself skimming.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I was torn between this rating and four stars, because I found Banks' writing - as always - simply wonderful. But wow, this book was SO long. I think it could have used some editing, especially since there's relatively little action or dialog. And yet, it kept me going so I can't say I was bored. And it really sparked my interest in John Brown and the whole history of the U.S. preceding the Civil War.
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An embroidered history of john brown the abolitionist. Details the impact a single fanatic can have on a family, town and country
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I had never really known much about John Brown until I read this book. It's a thick book but a quick read.
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