As the liner Ile de France docks in New York harbor, passengers notice with surprise the policemen gathered below and speculate as to which criminal among them will soon be apprehended. Here and there a single word floats above the general din: murder. Now and then a sage head tips knowingly in the direction of a flamboyant bootlegger: a crime of passion. But when the crowd begins to make its way down the gangplank, the notorious gangster slips through unmolested. Instead it's a celebrated architect with burns from a childhood accident partly covered by the patch over one eye -- who submits to authorities and is taken away in handcuffs.
So begins The Cloud Sketcher, a passionate tale of love and war and art that ranges from the ice fields of the Arctic Circle at the dawn of the last century to the ruthless world of New York real estate speculation in the 1920s. In a tiny village in the northernmost reaches of Finland, a young boy named Esko Vaananen mourns the death of his mother, who died in the same fire that so horribly scarred his face. Miserably, impossibly in love with the beautiful daughter of a Russian aristocrat, Esko is at the brink of despair when, in the magical light of the aurora borealis, he has a vision of an impossibly tall building rising gracefully from the frozen lake and disappearing into the clouds above him.
This pilvenpiirtaja--"cloud sketcher," or skyscraper sparks Esko's lifelong quest for beauty. He becomes an architect, believing that if he can create something of unparalleled loveliness, surely then he will be worthy of the love of Katerina Malysheva. This obsessive desire will cause Esko to risk everything time and again: as a reluctant hero in the bloody Battle of Tampere (the defining battle in the Finnish Civil War); as a laborer on the treacherous high steel of a riveting gang, hundreds of feet above Manhattan's city streets; as a player in the ruthless world of New York real estate speculation; and, finally, as a man accused of murdering the husband of the woman he loves.
The Cloud Sketcher is a transforming journey into the heart of beauty and the peril of love, a romantic, lyrical epic that resurrects history with such authenticity and drama as to place Richard Rayner in the company of our very best novelists.
It began with news of an elevator, in 1901 an instrument unknown, unheard of, undreamed of in the tiny Finnish village where Esko grew up, as close to the Arctic Circle as to the capital Helsinki. At that time, at the beginning of the fresh century, the village was almost untouched by the modern world, by a future that would, in a few years, sweep aside a way of life unchanged for hundreds. In 1901, when Esko was eleven, the village boasted no railroad and one telephone, which resided, crownlike, atop a narrow throne of solid oak in the study of the vicarage, the only house with electricity for fifty miles. Armies of spruce and pine creaked with snow during the frozen, infinitely long winter, trees that towered above a narrow, deeply rutted track that led into and out of the tiny village of Pyhajarvi. The track ran past a small general store that smelled of leather and mildewed potatoes and burlap. It weaved its way among four graveyards lit at Christmas time with ...
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