Black Cat
Black Cat
Black Cat

Book of Clouds

by Chloe Aridjis

“The opening is a knockout. . . . Aridjis beautifully captures Tatiana’s conflicting sense of certainty and impossibility . . . in this novel of ideas.” —Kirkus Reviews

  • Imprint Black Cat
  • Page Count 224
  • Publication Date March 10, 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-7056-9
  • Dimensions 5" x 7.25"
  • US List Price $18.00

About The Book

Book of Clouds is a haunting, masterfully wrought debut novel about a young woman adrift in Berlin, where a string of fateful encounters leads to romance, violence, and revelation. Having escaped her overbearing family a continent away, Tatiana settles in Berlin and cultivates solitude while distancing herself from the city’s past. Yet the phantoms of Berlin—seeping in through the floorboards of her apartment, lingering in the abandoned subterranean—are more alive to her than the people she passes on her daily walks. When she takes a job transcribing notes for the reclusive historian Doktor Weiss, her life in Berlin becomes more complex—and more perilous. Through Weiss, she meets Jonas, a meteorologist who, as a child in the GDR, took solace in the sky’s constant shape-shifting, an antidote to his grim and unyielding reality. As their three paths intersect and merge, the contours of all their worlds begin to change, culminating in an act of violence that will leave none of them untouched.

Unfolding with the strange, charged logic of a dream, Book of Clouds is a profound portrait of a city forever in flux, and of the myths we cling to in order to give shape to our lives. From a crowded U-Bahn where Hitler appears dressed as an old woman, to an underground Gestapo bowling alley whose walls bear score marks from games long settled, Chloe Aridjis guides us through Berlin with wit and compassion, blurring the lines between real and imagined, and showing why cities, like people, cannot outrun their pasts.

Tags Literary


“First novels by young writers who see the world with a fresh, original vision and write about it with clarity and restraint are rare enough to begin with. When you add in the fact that Chloe Aridjis’s Book of Clouds is also a stunningly accurate portrait Berlin, as well as a thoughtful portrayal of a young Mexican Jew drifting through her life abroad, this novel becomes required reading of the most pleasurable sort. . . . A book that has so much to recommend it, not least its ability to convey both actual and distorted realities at once.” —Wendy Lesser, The New York Times Book Review

“A hypnotic first novel . . . [Book of Clouds] has the power of dreams and still hasn’t left me.” —Junot Díaz, Salon.com (Best Books of 2009 authors’ picks)

“Beautifully evocative.” —The Guardian (UK)

“Chloe Aridjis’ debut novel, Book of Clouds, holds us in the mist, just below the point at which we can orient ourselves. . . . Restrained, melancholy and subacid, spiked with a dreamlike urban surrealism. . . . Tatiana is deeply inhabited by her author, who moves calmly from one precinct to another in Tatiana’s unusual mind. . . . Two ideas run counter to each other throughout Book of Clouds: what is lost and . . . what lingers. This adds a murky indefiniteness to the novel that feels uncomfortably like real life—not just the visual palimpsest of the new layered on the old that one encounters in any European city, but the emotional pull forward and backward in time, the sense of being spread thinly over a span of years far longer than our lifetimes and of grappling with the loves and sufferings of the dead. . . . Magic and poetry are everywhere in Book of Clouds . . . An unsettling atmosphere unlike anything in recent fiction.” —Regina Marler, Los Angeles Times

“The opening is a knockout. . . . Aridjis beautifully captures Tatiana’s conflicting sense of certainty and impossibility . . . in this novel of ideas.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A brooding, dreamy tale.” —Publishers Weekly

“[An] exceptional debut novel . . . Readers who know Berlin will find Aridjis’s re-creation of it almost uncanny, achieved with great clarity of vision—you’re right there, every moment—but also with such economy, using just a few carefully observed details. Those who do not know the city will feel somehow sure they do by the end of the book. . . . Book of Clouds is a beautifully turned piece of writing of extraordinary assurance . . . and as natural as breathing. Both vivid and dreamlike, at once very precise in its images and also enchantingly broad-brush atmospheric, this is a debut more captivating than any I’ve read in some time.” —Daniel Hahn, The Independent

“Once in a while a book comes along and does what it’s meant to do. It carves out a space for itself in the memory and it settles there, changing the way we see the world. . . . Like Gogol, Chloe Aridjis is interested in caricatures of urbanity, the space between comedy and metaphysical horror, and the confrontation between character and our own atavistic fears. Quiet, brave, and utterly unique, [Book of Clouds] will disturb, satiate, and change the way you think.” —Kate Young, The Times (UK)

Book of Clouds is a post-Sebaldian, post-Benjamin peripatetic meditation, at once casual and deeply sourced, on post-Wall Berlin. . . . One of my favorites this year.” —Ali Smith, Times Literary Supplement (UK)

“In her first novel, Chloe Aridjis succeeds where many have failed, blending past and present, real and imagined, in a believable realism.” —Lawrence Ferlinghetti

“Chloe Aridjis’s gifts for narrative, description, and detail signal the arrival of a promising new writer.” —Francine Prose

“A stirring and lyrical first novel by a young writer of immense talent.” —Paul Auster

“Original and nuanced . . . Provocative . . . Like WG Sebald reborn as a young woman, [Tatiana] walks the [Berlin] streets . . . [as] the weight of history presses in. . . . [Book of Clouds is] an entirely refreshing portrait of young womanhood, it is unselfconscious, uncompromising, wholly authentic: a fraying mass of narrative loose ends, it is also somehow satisfying in its open-endedness. . . . A most unusual debut.” —Justine Jordan, The Guardian

“Exquisitely written, Book of Clouds is a perfect Berlin story for our unsettled times, and a remarkable debut.” —Francisco Goldman

“Aridjis is an insightful observer of post-reunification Berlin, its restless nightlife, its transient flea-markets, its shifting landscape of neglect and gentrification, the ghosts of its past – and the chilling rise of the far right. Her lyrical, restrained prose conjures a dream-like atmosphere that borders on magical realism. This haunting debut is a significant and memorable addition to the literature of a troubling city.” —CJ Schüler, The Independent

“A short, haunting novel . . . A sensitive portrait of how it feels to scratch the surface of a foreign city.” —Ruth Atkins, Bookseller (Booksellers’ Choice)

“Chloe Aridjis has achieved something quite astonishing in a first book by a young writer: a rethinking of one of our most complacent forms, the historical novel. . . . The writer [Aridjis] calls to mind is the Modernist Haruki Murakami, with his unsolved riddles and ultra-cool characters.” —Helen Rumbelow, The Times (UK)

“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. . . . With episodes of delightful descriptive acuity . . . uncertainty might be Aridjis’s fictional specialty, but she captures it with rare incisiveness.” —Chloe Schama, Barnes & Noble Reviews

“Irresistible . . . Aridjis brings a bit of realism, a bit of wonder, a hint of darkness and true originality to this sharp, lyric and beguilingly strange tale of a life in flux. . . . Book of Clouds soars and shimmers through its assured writing, whimsical observations and its sheer ease. . . . Every nuance counts in this virtuoso performance. . . . Aridjis knows all about conveying the complex inner life of the mind. Her feel for characterization is instinctive and true. Book of Clouds is what happens when a gifted writer heeds her masters and also listens to herself. . . . [An] offbeat, engaging and compelling narrative with wry intelligence and a grasp of the darker fears of the imagination.” —Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times

“Brave . . . Weighty in its intelligence and thoughtfulness. Aridjis pens an odd kind of love letter to Berlin . . . [in a] highly appealing writing style—which is clean and spare, restrained yet direct. . . . [Aridjis] impressively conjures Berlin as an essentially unknowable place in spite of all the history we think we know about it.” —Lesley McDowell, The Scotsman

“Fresh and original . . . A portrait of Berlin, a city famed for its richness and strangeness, hauntingly captured by Aridjis . . . [who] shares [Murakami’s] sense of dream-like wandering.” —Francesca Segal, The Observer

“Aridjis’ incandescent prose delivers an atmospheric evocation of Berlin and the ghosts of history that perpetually haunt it.” —Sean P. Carroll, Bookslut

“[In Book of Clouds,] Aridjis completely captures a world where we have many homes and many languages and are surrounded by history and vagrants and lovers and eccentrics, yet we are still very much alone. . . . Fresh and refreshing.” —The Week Behind (online)

“Chloe Aridjis writes with a fine-tuned sensitivity and a captivating charm. Her universe is offbeat, rich, and disturbing in equal measure—but always utterly compelling.” —Tom McCarthy, author of Remainder

Book of Clouds is a startling and original reflection on a city that resists amnesia: traces of Berlin’s past are everywhere. Aridjis has found them with the instinct of a dream-catcher and the gravitas of an historian. . . . . [A] mesmerizing experience. . . . Aridjis has drawn a small world of tangential and sometimes chaotic meetings. But it’s not random: like the clouds whose patterns reveal the threat of rain or the likelihood of a fine day, Aridjis’ own map of Berlin is both momentary and eternal. Tatiana’s voyage takes us through a city catacombed by its past, yet canopied with great potential—a place where identities may be re-shaped and the self can ease itself into the flow of history.” —Eve Lucas, ExBerliner.com

“An extended pyschogeographical meditation on the tension between boundaries of all kinds and the spaces both within and outside them. . . . Book of Clouds is strongly reminiscent of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy. . . . It’s so beautifully written and stylistically coherent: a thoughtful and sincere exploration of the ways in which cities encode and embody memory, to be savoured slowly and allowed to linger in the mind.” —F. T. Huffkin, Belletrista

“An immensely pleasurable and thought-provoking read . . . Like the city in which it takes place, this novel holds layers of stories, some on the surface, some buried, and some far above the ground.” —Erika Dreifus, Fiction Writers Review


One of The Guardian‘s 10 Best Books Set in Berlin
Prix du Premier Best Foreign Language Debut
Nominated for the Harold U. Ribalow Prize


I dropped a two-euro coin into her pale palm, admiring the bright plastic rings on several of her fingers, and the young woman mumbled a few more words, smiling while she spoke, her mouth caught between language and whatever the impulse was that made her smile. The smile seemed to get in the way of language, and she reminded me, I couldn’t help it, of a village idiot who’d been plucked from a small, medieval town and dropped down unawares in the heart of a bustling city.

From that day onward I christened her the Simpleton of Alexanderplatz, and each time my tram passed the Deutsche Bank cash machines I would look out the window and see her standing at her post in her flowered dress with her plastic bags and bare branch, smiling at nothing, smiling no matter what.

Every now and then I would walk over to where she was and drop a few euros into her upturned hand, a pale, clammy microcosm of Alexanderplatz itself with its junctions and fissures, the city’s microbes all gathered in the tip of the index finger, the atmospheric pressure weighing down the ring finger, the pinky turned slightly outward like a crooked weathervane or a wayward crane. She usually wore her plastic rings, the kind that came in hollow chocolate eggs, two on one hand and three on the other.