Civil War Wiki
Author Russell Banks
Cover artist Marc Cohen
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Historical novel
Publisher Harper Flamingo
Publication date March 1998
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 768 pp (first edition, hardcover)
ISBN ISBN 0-06-016860-9 (first edition, hardcover)
OCLC Number 37024178
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 21
LC Classification PS3552.A49 C57 1998
Preceded by Rule of the Bone
Followed by Invisible Stranger

Cloudsplitter is a 1998 historical novel by Russell Banks relating the story of abolitionist John Brown.

The novel is narrated as a retrospective by John Brown's son, Owen Brown, from his hermitage in the San Gabriel Mountains of California. His reminisences are triggered by the reception of an invitation from a Miss Mayo, assistant to Oswald Garrison Villard, then researching his book John Brown: A Biography Fifty Years After (Boston, 1910).

Major themes[]

Banks raises a number of thematic questions during the lengthy portrayal of his subject matter. Notable among them are:

  • How emotional attachment and hermetic exile provide for an unreliable narration.
  • The moral consequences of Radicalism: violent vs. non-violent protest.
  • The fine line between sanity and religious fanaticism: "...the Lord speaks to me."
  • How strong familial attachment is itself a form of slavery.
  • Loss of innocence.

The narrative style employed by Banks is introspective and apologetic where each character's moral compass is seen as through the microscope of Owen Brown's telling; detailed and larger than life. Bank's prose uses language that registers on the psyche: evoking the conviction that redemption can be gained by an Augustinian confession. And yet the reader is goaded into sympathy with these characters by their sheer persistence in the face of seemingly insurmountable daily travails - evoking the innocence of a new-born country.


The novel was reviewed positively in a number of places—

"Russell Banks has created in Cloudsplitter an immediate landmark in American fiction" BookPage[1]
"Masterly... a furious, sprawling drama that commands attention like thunder heard from just over the horizon." Time Magazine (quoted in:)[2]
"...a novel of near-biblical proportions about the abolitionist freedom fighter John Brown, is shaped like an explosive with an exceedingly long and winding fuse." New York Times [3]

Awards and nominations[]

  • PEN/Faulkner finalist
  • Pulitzer Prize finalist


Martin Scorsese is at present producing a film of Cloudsplitter. Russell Banks is to provide a screenplay and Raoul Peck is directing, for the film production company HBO.[4]


  1. Flowers, Charles (1998). "Book Page Fiction Review : Cloudsplitter". Book Page Fiction Reviews. Retrieved 2007-02-15. 
  2. "Russell Banks New York State Author 2004-2006". New York State Writers Institute. Retrieved 2007-02-15. 
  3. Kirn, Walter (1998-02-22). "The Wages of Righteousness - New York Times". New York Times reviews. Retrieved 2007-02-15. 
  4. Steven Barclay Agency entry - 4th para

Alastair Moock has a song called Cloudsplitter based on the book, it is on his Album Fortune Street



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