Books: City of Clouds

I read Book of Clouds because it was recommended by a friend, my Spanish professor from college. I won’t say I disliked it, but on the whole my impression was mostly of unrealized expectations.Perhaps I am missing something. A review in the New York Times calls it “required reading of the most pleasurable sort.” Reviews quoted at amazon.com call it “exquisitely written,” “beautifully evocative,” and “weighty in its intelligence and thoughtfulness.”

I would agree that there are a number of well-written passages about various aspects of the city of Berlin. Indeed, the novel seems to be more about Berlin than about its main character, Tatiana. Making the setting an essential part of the novel is good, but it doesn’t take the place of good character development and plot.

Or maybe it does, for some readers. The word “surreal” comes up in some reviews. Perhaps it is seen as rising above the need for the sort of characterization and plot development that are normally expected in a novel. I don’t necessarily dislike surrealism (I happen to like Salvador DalĂ­‘s art), but perhaps I prefer it in visual art rather than literature. I would probably like the surrealist elements in Book of Clouds if they accompanied an interesting character, plot, or both.

But I guess I’m not alone in my disappointment with the book. A review in The Guardian concludes that “But without [the author’s] or Tatiana’s familiarity with Berlin, the reader gets lost in the dense fog of allusion.”

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