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21 October 2005

Book Review: The Cloud Atlas

I have always been a fan of war stories, especially World War II. I started reading Catch 22 the first time when I was a boy. For whatever reasons then, I put it down. I came back to it this spring. I enjoyed it.

At some point while I was reading Catch 22, I read a recommendation for The Cloud Atlas--another war story. The recommendation was that if a person liked Catch 22, he would like The Cloud Atlas too. But now, after having read The Cloud Atlas, I cannot see the logic in that recommendation.

Bad comparisons and faulty recommendations aside, I like The Cloud Atlas. It takes place in Alaska during the end of World War II. A teenaged enlisted boy is attached to a captain in Anchorage who is investigating the balloon bombs Japan were floating over the Pacific.

The captain is losing his mind after already having lost a leg to his first balloon bomb. They both become romantically entwined with a young Yup'ik-Russian girl who is somewhat of a fallen shaman with a tragic past.

Most of the book is spent building up the sequence of events that brought the three of them together. To me, the interesting aspect of the story is the intermingling of mystical (Yup'ik) and cultural religious values--and how they play out when thrown up against the failing sanity of the captain. It would not have been the same had the enlisted boy not been a devout Catholic raised by nuns in an orphanage.

Anyway, I recommend the book to anybody looking for a good read. It is no Catch 22, but definitely worth the time.