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.
Time Out New York
Irresistible. It delivers surprise after surprise, all the way up to the last page...a complex and absorbing story. Rayner's style is winningly animated. He explores the [Bolshevik] revolution's aftershocks in Finland throughly but not dryly. Jazz-age New York, complete with jaded journalists, drug-addicted nightclub singers and power-mad industrial magnates, is an inviting cosmos and a perfect setting for Esko's driving ambition to flourish.
No one who opens The Cloud Sketcher will find it easy to stop reading before the last vertiginous page....Passionate and well-researched…remarkable [for] its visceral feeling for architecture… Rayner's eye is excellent.
An atmospheric story of love and architecture in war-torn Finland and 1920s New York.... Rayner captures the vaunting spirit of skyscrapers and their creators with delicacy and freshness. [His] vivid renderings of wintry, pessimistic Finland and jazzy, anything-is-possible New York linger in the memory.
Has all the ingredients of good historical fiction, including a strongly told story; an expansive, fascinating setting; and richly drawn period details... Sure to delight a broad spectrum of readers.
Starred Review . An old-fashioned novel in the best sense full of incident and passion, presenting a slice of history and relating a gripping story....A transatlantic Great Expectations of the Jazz-Age 20s.
Starred Review. A glorious adventure....a sort of Fountainhead for Everyman....Anyone who enjoys the historical recreations of writers such as E.L. Doctorow will swoon over the love story, sway to the girders' dance, and sob over the cruel fate of these passionate people.
Kevin Baker, author of Dreamland The Cloud Sketcher is a whirlwind of passion, obsession, war, art, and undying love that captures both the dark turbulence of the Russian Revolution and the heady sparkle of jazz-age New York. A powerful, absorbing story about a dangerous and romantic time.
David Ebershoff, author of The Danish Girl
Steeped with a deft sense of time and place, The Cloud Sketcher is fiction at its most exuberant big, bursting, intricate, and alive.
Ric Burns, Director of New York A Documentary Film.
Richard Rayner has written a remarkable, ravishing book--a beautiful, glistening, impossibly romantic skyscraper of a novel, conjured--like the city and the decade and the dreams it celebrates--out of so many intoxicating things, not least of all thin air. A gripping love story, and a haunting, lyrical homage to New York in the Roaring 20s, it is a book of tall towers and furious dreams, and no one who reads it will ever look at the Art Deco spires of Manhattan again without thinking of Finland, and the heartstopping beauty of the aurora borealis.
Sheri Holman, author of The Dress Lodger
From the dark backwoods of Finland to the dizzying skyscraper wars of New York City, The Cloud Sketcher is as epic in scope and spirit as the new century it chronicles. A marvelously compelling novel.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Linda B
I have to admit I took a couple of months of on and off reading to get into this story but stuck with it and I am glad that I did. It was a wonderful story that took a small, frightened, bullied child and showed his dogged determination to achieve... Read More
Rated of 5
This Book is really perfect. :P
Rated of 5
Two different books in one.
Don't let the rest of my review mislead you: this is a good book, that is well worth reading !! It starts as a strange poetic description of rural Finland, written in a style that reminded me of fairy tales. It... Read More
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