"So we were going off to Kansas to be good at killing. Our specialty would be killing men who wished to own other men."
Russell Banks, known for his harshly realistic novels like "Affliction" and "The Sweet Hereafter," delves into American history, which in his hands is something complicated, dark, and bloody. This ambitious, sprawling (over 700 pages), and intense book is the story of John Brown and his war on slavery. Told by his conflicted and uneasy son Owen, who survived Harper's Ferry, Banks brilliantly recreates the mood and feel of the mid-19 century and the divisive force of slavery. John Brown, a religious zealot who felt called by God to start a war on slave owners, is an easy figure to respect, but a much harder one to like. Banks doesn't shy from his difficulty, but he does make him, if not exactly sympathetic, a compelling character who truly believed slavery was a great evil. Historical figures like Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Harriet Tubman make cameos. An impressive achievement that should have won the Pulitzer in 1999, rather than Cunningham's rather mediocre "The Hours." Also see James McBride's John Brown book "The Good Lord Bird" and Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner."
"Freedom! The bloody work of the Lord!"
Russell Banks won readers' hearts in 1991 with "The Sweet Hereafter". He tackled painful subject matter and a cast of damaged, thorny characters, and wrapped it 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 him understandable and even sympathetic. Unfortunately, "Cloudsplitter" is told from the reluctant and spiritually browbeaten perspective of Brown's son Owen, and the result is ponderous and lugubrious. The good that John Brown so determinedly strives for is powerfully overshadowed by his sanctimony, radicalism and religious fanaticism. The reader is left feeling as battered as the narrator.
Finalist of the 1999 Pulitzer prize for fiction.
Finalist 1999 Pulitzer prize.
There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.
There are no summaries for this title yet.
There are no notices for this title yet.
There are no quotes for this title yet.
View originally-listed edition
Report edition-matching error