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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Abolitionist John Brown, who some historians believe was a pivotal instigator of the Civil War, is at the center of Russell Banks's latest novel, Cloudsplitter. Deeply researched and peopled with a cast of characters both historical and wholly invented, Cloudsplitter evocatively brings to life the story of a devoutly religious and devoted family man, whose unbridled wrath over the immorality of slavery helped shape the course of historical events in his lifetime and well beyond.
Owen Brown, the only son of John to survive the Harper's Ferry raid, narrates the tale. At the request of a John Brown biographer, Owen — who, guilt-ridden and fiercely resentful, is living out his days as a virtual hermit in the hills of southern California — reluctantly relives his childhood and early manhood at the side of his now legendary father. Through Owen's recollections, John Brown is revealed to be a deeply flawed and stubborn man rather than the god history has chosen to memorialize.
From the raw material of history and his own prodigious artistic imagination, Banks deftly molds a compelling and heartbreaking story out of the shadowy fragments of one family's life. An all-too-often-forgotten event from the annals of American history is brought to life in Banks's climactic description of the slave insurrection at Harper's Ferry — a worthwhile read.