The Chetek Area Book Club’s August selection is “The Cloud Atlas,” by Liam Callanan, who currently resides in Milwaukee, teaching in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s English department.
The Chetek Area Book Club will meet for an approximately hour-long discussion of “The Cloud Atlas” at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 27, at Calhoun Memorial Library, 321 Moore St.
“The Cloud Atlas,” Callanan’s first novel, nominated for an Edgar Award in 2005, relates the intriguing story of a United States bomb disposal team stationed in Alaska during World War II. Although a work of historical fiction, the story is based on Japan’s efforts, late in the war, to send bombs across the Pacific Ocean to the US mainland using hot air balloons. The mission shrouded in mystery, much like the Alaskan wilderness, forces the main characters to make life-altering decisions.
The main characters inhabit their own worlds, which collide in various ways, providing both mystery and conflict. Callanan builds his narrative around a young protagonist, Sgt. Louis Belk, whose experiences in Alaska affect the rest of his life. Readers first meet Belk some 60 years after the war while he sits at the bedside of Ronnie, a shaman who for years dreamt of killing Belk with his magic. Callanan structures the story around Belk’s relaying of past events to Ronnie, so readers move from present to past and past to present.
Belk describes how he is immediately at odds with the wounded and vengeful Capt. Gurley. Belk tries to earn the captain’s respect yet remain true to himself. Additional complications arise with the appearance of Lily, a beautiful Yupik Eskimo woman who serves as seer and love interest and carries a deep, dark secret. Certainly, Alaska’s wilderness and five months of darkness function as both setting and character throughout the story.
Nicholas Delbanco, author of “The Years,” sums it up best: “‘The Cloud Atlas’ is an elegant, elegiac novel that turns one of the most bizarre episodes of American history into a fable about the collision of innocence and mystery, practicality and faith.”
“The Cloud Atlas” is available through MORE, Wisconsin’s digital library system.
No fees or commitments are required to join the Chetek Area Book Club. The remaining books for this year include “The Orphan Master’s Son,” “A Gentleman in Moscow,” “Before We Were Yours” and “Educated: A Memoir.” For more information, call Debbie Skozek at 815-861-9141.