Summary and book reviews of Cloud Sketcher by Richard Rayner

Cloud Sketcher

By Richard Rayner

Cloud Sketcher
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2001,
    448 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2002,
    448 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Chapter One

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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Introduction

"Katerina was his passion and his flaw; his inspiration, his blindness; his history; his future; she was the million stars that pricked and made brilliant his soul" (p. 328).

For a little boy, eleven years old at the beginning of the 20th century, great dreams begin with simple things. A clipped-out newspaper story about a new invention called the elevator inspires a passion to build skyscrapers, or as they are called in Finland, "cloud sketchers." And with an equal force, a beautiful little girl's hand mirror becomes his talisman for a grand, impossible, and ultimately tragic love.

Yet, when Richard Rayner's epic novel opens, it is already 1928, the luxury liner Ile de France is docking, ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb 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.

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Booklist

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.

Publishers Weekly

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.

Library Journal

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.

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.

Chicago Tribune

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.

Reader Reviews
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

Tomek

This Book is really perfect. :P

Regards

Tomek

ckootstra@yahoo.com

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 develops into...   Read More

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