cover image Book of Clouds

Book of Clouds

Chloe Aridjis. Grove Press, $14 (209pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-7056-9

Aridjis's lithe debut novel is a brooding, dreamy tale of a young Mexican woman in Berlin, burrowing an escape from the siblings and expectations awaiting her back home. Placing first in a nationwide language exam, university student Tatiana wins a year's room and board in Germany, quickly dissolving into Berlin life (""On some days I felt attached to the city and assimilated, on others like some kind of botched transplant with a few renegade veins"") and deciding to stay on when the scholarship runs dry. After a series of odd jobs, Tatiana lands with Dr. Friedrich Weiss, an eccentric historian who needs an assistant to transcribe a number of his ""mesmeric"" dictations. A loner with a fertile imagination, Tatiana is well-suited to the job, and quickly grows absorbed; Weiss's obsession with Berlin's Nazi and Stasi past dovetails nicely with Tatiana's fascination with the city's underbelly. Ultimately, the characters and landmarks of this ephemeral novel (Tatiana included) never quite emerge from a fog of mystery, making this less a satisfying narrative than a lofty meditation on the power of what's obscured and unknowable.