Book of Clouds is the first novel by Mexican American author Chloe Aridjis. The book is about a Mexican woman named Tatiana who won a national language contest and was awarded a year of study in Berlin. She stays in Berlin after her scholarship is up, living a fairly solitary life and working odd jobs to get by. She eventually lands a job transcribing the dictations of a local historian. Through this job, she meets other people and has the opportunity to explore the darker parts of Berlin.
Aridjis is a master at detail. Much of the novel takes place in Tatiana’s head in the form of her observations about Berlin and its inhabitants. She often creates narratives for the strangers and foreign areas of the city she encounters. For instance:
With the division of the city, its public transportation system, like everything else, was cut in two…The stations became ghosts at places where the city was not neatly split and Western trains had to cross sections of the East in order to continue their journey to other destinations in the west…As for West Berliners passing through in their trains, many of them, over time, became desensitized and stopped looking out. Others felt like Orpheus crossing the Underworld, forced to continue on a path without looking back. It was an eerie experience, Weiss said, to travel through this hushed realm where even the lights had muted to a whisper.
Aridjis brings Berlin and its dark history to life. What struck me most about this book was its ethereal quality; reading it is very much like walking through a fog. It’s a very slow, quiet book that takes its time to develop, but it remains strange and amusing enough to keep the reader’s interest piqued. I look forward to reading whatever Aridjis writes in the future.