Book of Clouds

Chloe Aridjis’s Berlin is full of nebulae. Clouds, fog, memory, the past — these atmospheric and historical forces surge up and surround the characters of Aridjis’s beautiful debut novel, Book of Clouds. The narrator, Tatiana, wanders in a haze, her original reason for moving to the city — to study German — all but forgotten in her directionless present. She moves from job to job, apartment to apartment, spurred into activity more from necessity than inner compulsion. Tatiana is a Mexican transplant who landed in Berlin because of an unexpected grant, and she is now trying to figure out how the rest of her 20s — and her life — should play out. As she is poised between two continents and cultures, and between youth and adulthood, Tatiana’s unfocused look at her life, and the general haze of the novel, seem appropriate to her position. And while her movements through the city may seem aimless, they are punctuated with episodes of delightful descriptive acuity: a woman distributing cinnamon buns to her ravenous sons, an old lady in a hooded raincoat leaning into the rain like a Tyrannosaurus rex, the winking raisin eyes of the marzipan bears that appear in her local baker’s window around Christmastime. Moments like these, as well as the mysteries arising from her work for a German historian and the twists of a love affair with a local meteorologist, keep the seemingly vague story moving swiftly along. Uncertainty might be Aridjis’s fictional specialty, but she captures it with rare incisiveness.