Thursday, 13 March 2014

Book of Clouds

I bought this book by Chloe Aridjis in one of my favourite bookshops in Ghent for ten Euros. Not much for a book, but then again, it only counts little more than two hundred pages. It caught my eye (despite its slimness) because of the lovely colour of the cover: a dark blue with big white swirly letters.
The storyline is fairly simple: it’s about a girl from Mexico City in her twenties who is staying in Berlin for a couple of years. She’s quite a loner, and she reminds me a bit of Amelie Poulin: she notices details no one ever seems to notice, and she’s not the best at interacting with others.
In the six months she shares with us (written in first person past tense- yay!) she tells us how she got a job working as a transcriber for an old professor, who sends her around town to do interviews for him, and how she meets Jonas, who is fascinated with clouds.
“I used to pretend to keep a cloud garden, which I fed daily. And when the clouds were big and strong I would unfasten them from their roots and let them drift upward, into the sky, and…”
“And what?”
“Well, I would unfasten them from their roots, but only after months of nurture, during which they prepared for the big ascension, the main event in their lives. Aerial histories were recounted, wind currents and nephological formations explained, navigational skills honed…”[…] “Once in the sky, however, the cloud had to accept that its life would be ephemeral. At best it’d become a rain-laden nimbus and depart in a thunderstorm- and, to everyone but dreamers and meteorologists, it would be indistinguishable from its colleagues.”

There is no big event in the book. No quest, no romance. It’s just the girl walking around the city and noticing things mostly… But because of the atmosphere (pun intended) of the book I couldn’t put it down. When she is in a basement with no lights she panics, and I felt claustrophobic just by reading it. And when she leaves her apartment, her mixed feelings of nostalgia and sudden boldness and saying goodbyes are so relatable that I was sad when the book was over. When she stares at interesting people or goes up to talk with them, I feel curious and jealous, because I often feel like I want to do the same things if I wasn’t such a stranger/danger girl. And when she sees Hitler wearing a red scarf on the metro I laugh; but haven’t we all thought we recognized someone in real life who is in fact long dead? (For instance, one of our customers at the library is the spitting image of captain Haddock – including hat and beard, except his beard is white.)

This was definitely one of the better books I’ve read this year, and if you happen to see a slim, dark blue cover on your next shopping spree, I would recommend you giving it a chance.

Until next time,


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