Kris's Reviews > Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
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Jul 25, 14

bookshelves: contemporary, fiction, 1001, favorites
Read in September, 2012, read count: 2

All autumn, with the release date of movie adaptation of Cloud Atlas fast approaching, interest in the novel among my Goodreads friends has been high. I have not seen many subdued reactions. Fans of Mitchell discuss his ability adeptly to assume so many different voices and styles, the intricacy of the novel’s structure, and the relevance of its themes for today. Detractors have dismissed Cloud Atlas as gimmicky, a work by a much-hyped writer who is showing off his style but neglecting to anchor it in themes of substance. And some readers simply found his shifts in voice tedious.



I recently re-read Cloud Atlass, bearing in mind both reactions to the novel. I also remembered my first time reading it. I was mesmerized by Mitchell’s ability to pay homage to six very different genres and voices in the six novellas that make up Cloud Atlas. I delighted in tracing connections and interconnections among the different sections of the novel. I was entranced by Mitchell’s high wire act.

Mitchell structures Cloud Atlas as follows: six novellas are organized in chronological order. The first five break off abruptly in the middle of their respective stories. The sixth novella, “Sloosha’s Crossin’,” appears in its entirety in the center of the novel. After its conclusion, Mitchell moves in reverse chronological order through the remaining five novellas, bringing each to a conclusion, but also providing numerous points of connection and resonance among all six novellas.

The novellas are as follows:

The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing: tracing the travels of Adam Ewing, a notary, who is sailing to Australia and New Zealand in the 1850s, and who comes face to face with human greed on individual and communal levels;
Letters from Zedelghem: the composer Robert Frobisher writing to his friend, Rufus Sixsmith, about his experiences in post-World War I Belgium as he seeks fame and fortune while negotiating a precarious relationship with a famous composer at the end of his career;
Halflives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery: Luisa Rey, a young investigative reporter, seeks to carry out her father’s legacy while combating the corporate greed and corruption of Seaboard Power Inc. in Reagan-era California;
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish: a vanity publisher gains and loses a fortune, and loses his freedom, in England;
An Orison of Sonmi-451: Sonmi-451, a genetically modified being or fabricant, shares her memories of her quest for knowledge and her fight against government-sanctioned murder in the name of corporate greed;
Sloosha’s Crossin’ An’ Ev’rythin’ After: Zachry, a Pacific Islander who is a member of the Valleymen, tells about his experiences with Meronym, a Prescient, as they seek past knowledge and combat the savagery of the Kona and devastation by plague in the future.

With my second reading of the novel, I delved deeper than focusing on its structure. I focused on themes. Did Mitchell have the content to support his style and technique, or was Cloud Atlas all style and no substance? After a careful re-reading, I concluded that Mitchell’s approach to writing Cloud Atlas is successful, not simply as an exercise in writing style, but because the style and structure support his exploration of central themes, of critical importance to 21st-century readers.




Knowledge in Cloud Atlas: History, Language, Belief, Memory, and Forgetting

In a 2004 interview in the Washington Post, David Mitchell provided some insight into his main interests in writing Cloud Atlas. After reading a reference to the Moriori in Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, Mitchell became fascinated with the tribe, who lived in the Chatham Islands of New Zealand. He researched them and visited the Chatham Islands as well. The Moriori appear in Cloud Atlas, as Ewing meets them and attempts to come to terms with the many forces that overpower them: Western missionaries in search of souls, whalers in search of profit, and Maori exercising their power over the Moriori through force. However, as Mitchell describes, the Moriori’s influence appears throughout the novel, as a main influence for a central theme: “Knowledge can be forgotten as easily as, perhaps more easily than, it can be accrued. As a people, the Moriori ‘forgot’ the existence of any other land and people but their own.” This led to Mitchell’s first theme in Cloud Atlas: how does knowledge transform over time, from generation to generation? How are we shaped, not only by what we remember from the past, but also by what we forget or rework? Why is it so important for us to be able to tell stories about the past, and to know the conclusion of those stories? Mitchell’s interest was fueled in part by his being a father, and wondering what the future would hold for his child, but also by his interest in history.


Moriori people, 1877



Spirit Grove- Hapupu, Chatham Islands

As a novelist, Mitchell explores these questions while also paying homage to different genres of writing, and in some cases specific books that were particularly inspiring to him. (See the Washington Post interview linked above for a list of these influences.) However, these voices are not simply an opportunity for him to demonstrate his ability to shapeshift as a writer. A quotation from this interview gave me insights into the significance of the different voices that he adopts in Cloud Atlas: “I learned that language is to the human experience what spectography is to light: Every word holds a tiny infinity of nuances, a genealogy, a social set of possible users, and that although a writer must sometimes pretend to use language lightly, he should never actually do so -- the stuff is near sacred.” He is not simply showing off his chops as a writer when he adopts six different voices in Cloud Atlas--instead, he is creating new worlds, painting pictures of cultures with words. In doing so, he considers the knowledge these cultures retained and the knowledge they lost from the past. If you read closely and carefully, you can see how language is shifting over time, particularly in the novel’s central section, “Sloosha’s Crossin’.” Some readers found this section to be painful to read, but I loved the challenge of diving into Zachry’s language, identifying unfamiliar words, and considering what social factors led to their creation. I felt like an ethnographer, listening carefully to stories told by an informant from a very different world, and finding clues to recreate that world. That quest to understand, and the impact of discovering points I had in common with Zachry, speak to a larger theme -- continuity in some aspects of human culture over time, and the necessity of preserving and understanding the past as much as possible, even as it recedes from us in time.

The title of the novel, Cloud Atlas, itself ties back to Mitchell’s conception of history. We think of an atlas as a book that guides us through unfamiliar terrain and captures the contours of mountains and valleys, the depths of seas and lakes. An atlas of clouds suggests something much more ephemeral -- clouds are constantly moving, shifting, transforming, and eventually dissipating into the ether. Mitchell’s conception of history is built on a sense of constant movement and change. Even as we try to capture the past in works of history, literature, and art, we change and transform its meaning to fit our present.

In the Luisa Rey story, the engineer Isaac Sachs outlines this view of history as he takes notes during a plane ride:.
• …. The actual past is brittle, ever-dimming + ever more problematic to access + reconstruct: in contrast, the virtual past is malleable, ever-brightening + ever more difficult to circumvent/expose as fraudulent.
• The present presses the virtual past into its own service, to lend credence to its mythologies + legitimacy to the imposition of will. Power seeks + is the right to “landscape” the virtual past. (He who pays the historian calls the tune.)
• Symmetry demands an actual + virtual future, too. We imagine how next week, next year, or 2225 will shape up—a virtual future, constructed by wishes, prophecies + daydreams. This virtual future may influence the actual future, as in a self fulfilling prophecy, but the actual future will eclipse our virtual one as surely as tomorrow eclipses today. Like Utopia, the actual future + the actual past exist only in the hazy distance, where they are no good to anyone.
• Q: Is there a meaningful distinction between one simulacrum of smoke, mirrors + shadows—the actual pas —from another such simulacrum—the actual future?
• One model of time: an infinite matryoshka doll of painted moments, each “shell” (the present) encased inside a nest of “shells” (previous presents) I call the actual past but which we perceive as the virtual past. The doll of “now” likewise encases a nest of presents yet to be, which I call the actual future but which we perceive as the virtual future.


Throughout Cloud Atlas, Mitchell develops this depiction of the interplay of the actual and virtual past and the actual and virtual future in shaping the present. In doing so, he leaves the door open for societies to shape their actual futures through this process of creation and reinterpretation. However, one important limitation on their ability to do so for the better is the ubiquitous influence of power dynamics across human societies, past, present, and future.


The Will to Power in Cloud Atlas

This interest in history leads another of Mitchell’s themes in Cloud Atlas: the centrality of acquisitiveness, of the drive to acquire and possess, to the human experience throughout time. He takes a broad approach to exploring this force, as explained in his Washington Post interview: “Perhaps all human interaction is about wanting and getting. (This needn't be as bleak as it sounds -- a consequence of getting can be giving, which presumably is what love is about.) Once I had these two ideas for novellas, I looked for other variations on the theme of predatory behavior -- in the political, economic and personal arenas.”

Mitchell is not alone in focusing on wanting, getting, and giving as main factors forming human relationships, and shaping history. Anthropologists such as Marcel Mauss in The Gift have explored the role of gift exchange in fostering relationships, and in determining power dynamics, in human societies. Historians have looked at these elements from a broader perspective, particularly in studies of colonialism in the early modern and modern world. Investigative reporters uncover instances of the abuse of power, as measured by wealth and influence. Wherever we turn, our past and present are shaped by power relations and the desire to possess -- wealth, political influence, land, beautiful objects, and people. What does this mean for our future?

In Cloud Atlas, Mitchell explores power in many manifestations. “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing” provides a deep exploration of the intersections of colonial interests and local power struggles and how they affected the lives of the Moriori, whose commitment to peaceful interactions with their neighbors were no protection against the combined forces of missionaries, whalers, and the Maori: “What moral to draw? Peace, though beloved of our Lord, is a cardinal virtue only if your neighbors share your conscience.”


Portrait of New Zealand man


Reception of Captain Cook in Hapaee


Robert Frobisher confronts power on two scales: on an individual level, he experiences the combined forces of sexual power and greed in his interactions with Vyvyan Ayrs and his wife Jocasta. As Ayrs tells him in a final confrontation: “Any society’s upper crust is riddled with immorality-- how else d’you think they keep their power?” He also explores power in a world-scale through attempts to come to terms with World War One:

“What sparks wars? The will to power, the backbone of human nature. The threat of violence, the fear of violence, or actual violence is the instrument of this dreadful will. You can see the will to power in bedrooms, kitchens, factories, unions, and the borders of states. Listen to this and remember it. The nation-state is merely human nature inflated to monstrous proportions. QED, nations are entities whose laws are written by violence. Thus it ever was, so ever shall it be..... Our will to power, our science, and those very faculties that elevated us from apes, to savages, to modern man, are the same faculties that’ll snuff out Homo sapiens before this century is out!”




Sonmi-451 provides another perspective on the evolution of conflict and wars, showing that the basic dynamics are not different in her future:

Rights are susceptible to subversion, as even granite is susceptible to erosion. My fifth Declaration posits how, in a cycle as old as tribalism, ignorance of the Other engenders fear; fear engenders hatred; hatred engenders violence; violence engenders further violence until the only “rights,” the only law, are whatever is willed by the most powerful. In corpocracy, this means the Juche. What is willed by the Juche is the tidy xtermination of a fabricant underclass.

Meronym provides a cautionary perspective on the future that may await us in our zeal to acquire power in all its forms:

The Prescient answered, Old Uns tripped their own Fall.
Oh, her words was a rope o’ smoke. But Old Uns’d got the Smart!
I mem’ry she answered, Yay, Old Uns’ Smart mastered sicks, miles, seeds an made miracles ord’nary, but it din’t master one thing, nay, a hunger in the hearts o humans, yay, a hunger for more.
More what? I asked. Old Uns’d got ev’rythin.
Oh, more gear, more food, faster speeds, longer lifes, easier lifes, more power, yay. Now the Hole World is big, but it weren’t big nuff for that hunger what made Old Uns rip out the skies an boil up the seas an poison soil with crazed atoms an donkey ’bout with rotted seeds so new plagues was borned an babbits was freakbirthed. Fin’ly, bit’ly, then quicksharp, states busted into bar’bric tribes an the Civ’lize Days ended, ’cept for a few folds’n’pockets here’n’there, where its last embers glimmer.



Image from Riddley Walker, inspiration for Sloosha’s Crossin’

Is there any form of power than can combat corporate and governmental power and greed? Luisa Rey presents another form of power: that of public outrage, driven by the media, which can provide a counterweight to greed that acts against the public interest. However, what happens when the media is co-opted by the same corporate powers which it should be scrutinizing?:

Van Zandt’s bookshelf-lined office is as neat as Grelsch’s is chaotic. Luisa’s host is finishing up. “The conflict between corporations and activists is that of narcolepsy versus remembrance. The corporations have money, power, and influence. Our sole weapon is public outrage. Outrage blocked the Yuccan Dam, ousted Nixon, and in part, terminated the monstrosities in Vietnam. But outrage is unwieldy to manufacture and handle. First, you need scrutiny; second, widespread awareness; only when this reaches a critical mass does public outrage explode into being. Any stage may be sabotaged. The world’s Alberto Grimaldis can fight scrutiny by burying truth in committees, dullness, and misinformation, or by intimidating the scrutinizers. They can extinguish awareness by dumbing down education, owning TV stations, paying ‘guest fees’ to leader writers, or just buying the media up. The media—and not just The Washington Post—is where democracies conduct their civil wars.”


The Individual and the Forces of History: Is There Hope For Our Future?

After considering the kaleidoscope of human power and greed in Cloud Atlas, are we left with any hope for the future, or is Mitchell leaving us with a pessimistic prognosis? Cloud Atlas provides a staggering exploration of different manifestations of power and greed over centuries of human history: colonialism, missionary activity, 19th-century whaling, the modern quest for fame and fortune, and corporate greed, to name a few.



In spite of these dark depictions of the negative influence of the human quest for power, Mitchell does provide some hope that individuals can and do make a difference. Luisa Rey and her allies uncover the publicize the deception and danger of Seaboard Power Inc.. Zachry and Meronym band together and manage to survive plague and attacks from the Kona. Sonmi-451 sacrifices herself for the good of the fabricants, and lives on in the religious practices of the Old Uns and the studies of the Prescients. Fittingly, Mitchell gives Adam Ewing the last word, as he reflects on his experiences after his rescue from poisoning and drowning:

If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.
A life spent shaping a world I want Jackson to inherit, not one I fear Jackson shall inherit, this strikes me as a life worth the living. Upon my return to San Francisco, I shall pledge myself to the Abolitionist cause, because I owe my life to a self-freed slave & because I must begin somewhere.
[W]hat is any ocean but a multitude of drops?


Just as Mitchell channels his concerns about his son's future through Ewing's words, so does he provide us with a clear sense of how critical our individual choices are in shaping our own children's future. Individuals are not swept aside by the forces of history--one by one, we make up these forces. The actual future of our species and our planet is in our hands. Will we act for a just world, or sit back and contribute to the demise of our planet through inaction, or greed, or cowardice? These pivotal questions, and this critical choice, give Cloud Atlas its power.

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Quotes Kris Liked

David Mitchell
“What wouldn't I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an' tho' a cloud's shape nor hue nor size don't stay the same, it's still a cloud an' so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud's blowed from or who the soul'll be 'morrow? Only Sonmi the east an' the west an' the compass an' the atlas, yay, only the atlas o' clouds.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“Three or four times only in my youth did I glimpse the Joyous Isles, before they were lost to fogs, depressions, cold fronts, ill winds, and contrary tides... I mistook them for adulthood. Assuming they were a fixed feature in my life's voyage, I neglected to record their latitude, their longitude, their approach. Young ruddy fool. What wouldn't I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth and claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“Why fight the 'natural' (oh, weaselly word!) order of things? Why? Because of this--one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“Behold your future, Cavendish the Younger. You will not apply for membership, but the tribe of the elderly will claim you. Your present will not keep pace with the world's. This slippage will stretch your skin, sag your skeleton, erode your hair and memory, make your skin turn opaque so your twitching organs and blue-cheese veins will be semivisible. You will venture out only in daylight, avoiding weekends and school holidays. Language, too, will leave you behind, betraying your tribal affiliations whenever you speak. On escalators, on trunk roads, in supermarket aisles, the living will overtake you, incessantly. Elegant women will not see you. Store detectives will not see you. Salespeople will not see you, unless they sell stair lifts or fraudulent insurance policies. Only babies, cats, and drug addicts will acknowledge your existence. So do not fritter away your days. Sooner than you fear, you will stand before a mirror in a care home, look at your body, and think, E.T., locked in a ruddy cupboard for a fortnight.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“How vulgar, this hankering after immortality, how vain, how false. Composers are merely scribblers of cave paintings. One writes music because winter is eternal and because, if one didn't, the wolves and blizzards would be at one's throat all the sooner.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
Yay, Old Uns' Smart mastered sicks, miles, seeds, an' made miracles ord'nary, but it din't master one thing, nay, a hunger in the hearts o' humans, yay, a hunger for more.
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
Exposition: the workings of the actual past + the virtual past may be illustrated by an event well known to collective history, such as the sinking of the Titanic. The disaster as it actually occurred descends into obscurity as its eyewitnesses die off, documents perish + the wreck of the ship dissolves in its Atlantic grave. Yet a virtual sinking of the Titanic, created from reworked memories, papers, hearsay, fiction--in short, belief--grows ever "truer." The actual past is brittle, ever-dimming + ever more problematic to access + reconstruct: in contrast, the virtual past is malleable, ever-brightening + ever more difficult to circumvent/expose as fraudulent.

The present presses the virtual past into its own service, to lend credence to its mythologies + legitimacy to the imposition of will. Power seeks + is the right to "landscape" the virtual past. (He who pays the historian calls the tune.)

Symmetry demands an actual + virtual
future too. We imagine how next week, next year, or 2225 will shape up--a virtual future, constructed by wishes, prophecies + daydreams. This virtual future may influence the actual future, as in a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the actual future will eclipse our virtual one as surely as tomorrow eclipses today. Like Utopia, the actual future + the actual past exist only in the hazy distance, where they are no good to anyone.

Q: Is there a meaningful distinction between one simulacrum of smoke, mirrors + shadows--the actual past--from another such simulacrum--the actual future?

One model of time: an infinite matryoshka doll of painted moments, each "shell" (the present) encased inside a nest of "shells" (previous presents) I call the actual past but which we perceive as the virtual past. The doll of "now"likewise encases a nest of presents yet to be, which I call the actual future but which we
perceive as the virtual future.
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“To enslave an individual troubles your consciences, Archivist, but to enslave a clone is no more troubling than owning the latest six-wheeler ford, ethically. Because you cannot discern our differences, you assume we have none. But make no mistake: even same-stem fabricants cultured in the same wombtank are as singular as snowflakes.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“The learnin' mind is the livin' mind... an' any sort o' smart is truesome smart, old smart or new, high smart or low.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“... in a cycle as old as tribalism, ignorance of the Other engenders fear; fear engenders hatred; hatred engenders violence; violence engenders further violence until the only "rights", the only law, are whatever is willed by the most powerful.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“What sparks wars? The will to power, the backbone of human nature. The threat of violence, the fear of violence, or actual violence, is the instrument of this dreadful will. You can see the will to power in bedrooms, kitchens, factories, unions and the borders of states. Listen to this and remember it. The nation state is merely human nature inflated to monstrous proportions. QED, nations are entities whose laws are written by violence. Thus it ever was, so ever shall it be.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“Been thinking of my grandfather, whose wayward brilliance skipped my father’s generation. Once, he showed me an aquatint of a certain Siamese temple. Don’t recall its name, but ever since a disciple of the Buddha preached on the spot centuries ago, every bandit king, tyrant, and monarch of that kingdom has enhanced it with marble towers, scented arboretums, gold-leafed domes, lavished murals on its vaulted ceilings, set emeralds into the eyes of its statuettes. When the temple finally equals its counterpart in the Pure Land, so the story goes, that day humanity shall have fulfilled its purpose, and Time itself shall come to an end.

To men like Ayrs, it occurs to me, this temple is civilization. The masses, slaves, peasants, and foot soldiers exist in the cracks of its flagstones, ignorant even of their ignorance. Not so the great statesmen, scientists, artists, and most of all, the composers of the age, any age, who are civilization’s architects, masons, and priests. Ayrs sees our role is to make civilization ever more resplendent. My employer’s profoundest, or only, wish is to create a minaret that inheritors of Progress a thousand years from now will point to and say, “Look, there is Vyvyan Ayrs!”

How vulgar, this hankering after immortality, how vain, how false. Composers are merely scribblers of cave paintings. One writes music because winter is eternal and because, if one didn’t, the wolves and blizzards would be at one’s throat all the sooner.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“Luisa rolls her napkin into a compact ball. "I ask three simple questions. How did he get that power? How is he using it? And how can it be taken off the sonofabitch?”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“Our weaponry was not dropped onto our laps one morning. It is not manna from Sinai’s skies. Since Agincourt, the White man has refined & evolved the gunpowder sciences until our modern armies may field muskets by the tens of thousands! Aha!’ you will ask, yes, ‘But why us Aryans? Why not the Unipeds of Ur or the Mandrakes of Mauritius?’ Because, Preacher, of all the world’s races, our love—or rather our rapacity—for treasure, gold, spices & dominion, oh, most of all, sweet dominion, is the keenest, the hungriest, the most unscrupulous! This rapacity yes, powers our Progress; for ends infernal or divine I know not. Nor do you know, sir. Nor do I overly care. I feel only gratitude that my Maker cast me on the winning side.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“Scholars discern motions in history & formulate these motions into rules that govern the rises & falls of civilizations. My belief runs contrary, however. To wit: history admits no rules; only outcomes.

What precipitates outcomes? Vicious acts & virtuous acts.

What precipitates acts? Belief.

Belief is both prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind’s mirror, the world. If we believe humanity is a ladder of tribes, a colosseum of confrontation, exploitation & bestiality, such a humanity is surely brought into being, & history's Horroxes, Boerhaaves & Gooses shall prevail. You & I, the moneyed, the privileged, the fortunate, shall not fare so badly in this world, provided our luck holds. What of it if our consciences itch? Why undermine the dominance of our race, our gunships, our heritage & our legacy? Why fight the “natural” (oh, weaselly word!) order of things?

Why? Because of this:—one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. Yes, the devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul. For the human species, selfishness is extinction.

Is this the doom written within our nature?

If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe that leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.

A life spent shaping a world I want Jackson to inherit, not one I fear Jackson shall inherit, this strikes me as a life worth the living.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell
“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas


Reading Progress

10/03/2011 page 145
28.0%
09/23/2012 page 1
0.0% 23 comments
10/02/2012 page 239
46.0% 2 comments
10/04/2012 page 311
61.0% 3 comments
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 214) (214 new)


message 1: by Emilian (new) - added it

Emilian Kasemi I must read this! Many friends of mine gave it 5 stars.


Kris Emilian wrote: "I must read this! Many friends of mine gave it 5 stars."

I really loved it -- people seem to either love it or hate it. I'm looking forward to hearing what you think! Have you read any other books by Mitchell?


Mosca For me it was 5 stars also.

I'm really looking forward to your review Kris.


Kris Thanks, Mosca! I am hoping to finish the review this weekend. So glad you loved Cloud Atlas too.


Megan I'm excited to see your review Kris!


Kris Thanks Megan!


Stephen M No pressure but if a review comes out, here is my placeholder :) I know it'll be great.


Kris Thanks Stephen! I am just trying to finish The Master and Margarita review right now, and then Cloud Atlas is next.


Aloha Terrific review, Kris! I love how detailed you were in pointing out the cultural and historical theme of the novel. It's a shame when people don't realize how much is in that novel. Great job in pointing them out!


message 10: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Aloha wrote: "Terrific review, Kris! I love how detailed you were in pointing out the cultural and historical theme of the novel. It's a shame when people don't realize how much is in that novel. Great job in..."

Thanks Aloha! I had been aware of those themes, but the more I thought and dug and reflected, the more they resonated. It was a lot of fun to explore them.


Scribble Orca *****


message 12: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Thanks Scribble. I'm relieved to have finished the review -- for a while, I was worried it would finish me. :)


Aubrey Amazing review. I understand and appreciate the book so much better now.


message 14: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Thanks Aubrey!


Stephen M Amazing work of scholarship. Well done. That was quite the reading experience. I've been riding a Mitchell high ever since I finished the movie last night and read you and s.penke's reviews today.


message 16: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Stephen M wrote: "Amazing work of scholarship. Well done. That was quite the reading experience. I've been riding a Mitchell high ever since I finished the movie last night and read you and s.penke's reviews today."

Thanks, Stephen. You're one of my Mitchell experts, and your opinion means a lot.


message 17: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike Puma Very nice, indeed. But, then, who would have expected less? Always a pleasure reading your reviews.


message 18: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Mike wrote: "Very nice, indeed. But, then, who would have expected less? Always a pleasure reading your reviews."

Thanks so much, Mike -- you're making me smile, as always.


message 19: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike Puma I've been wanting to read DM, but I've decided that if I wait a week or two, absolutely everyone else in the world will have read him first. A plan of sorts.


message 20: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Mike wrote: "I've been wanting to read DM, but I've decided that if I wait a week or two, absolutely everyone else in the world will have read him first. A plan of sorts."

Laughing here -- you will be the last reviewer standing!


Jason That last passage really is awe-inspiring, isn't it? I love the photos. Also glad that this stood up to a second reating, Kris. I know you read critically but this one also speaks to the heart. And you've got both. Great review!


Scribble Orca Mike wrote: "I've been wanting to read DM, but I've decided that if I wait a week or two, absolutely everyone else in the world will have read him first. A plan of sorts."

Yes, it's true. We've all been seduced, one way or another.


message 23: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Jason wrote: "That last passage really is awe-inspiring, isn't it? I love the photos. Also glad that this stood up to a second reating, Kris. I know you read critically but this one also speaks to the heart. And..."

Thanks Jason, my fellow appreciator of Sloosha's Crossin'. :)

Your comment means a lot to me. And I really wanted to combine an intellectual with an emotional response to the novel. So thank you, Jason!


Michael Fantastic synthesis! I appreciate the success of your our ethnographic historical skills to unpuzzle a blooming buzzing virtual world spread across the 4th dimension of time.

Still trying to digest that important bit about virtual and actual past and future, which you helped me a lot in elucidating. The power of people to make a virtual future into an actual one represents the hopeful piece of human power, as you illustrate with the first man Adam's goal at the end. (It took Diamond a whole other book, Collapse, to reach such lines of hope, and then only at its end).

Swimming against the tide of destructive power and greed means something. One who had a lot of trouble was Cavendish. A lot of uncovered metaphors in that comic horror story. Lot of disappeared people in that gulag of modern society. Yet another way history can get rewritten.

What goes round, comes around. It that the key to your Easter Egg of the return of Gonwanaland? Six inhabited continents (like 6 stories) returning to a unified land mass. Love, love your images to illustrate your brilliant analysis.


message 25: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Michael wrote: "Fantastic synthesis! I appreciate the success of your our ethnographic historical skills to unpuzzle a blooming buzzing virtual world spread across the 4th dimension of time.

Still trying to di..."


Thank you so much for your very thoughtful and kind comments, Michael. I'm so glad you mention Cavendish -- I gave that story short shrift here (was up against character limits) -- but I agree, there's much to be gained from reading that story carefully. There was a quote I almost included: "“ ‘Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty.’ ” Warlock-Williams
looked at me as if I had spoken in tongues. “Solzhenitsyn.”" I agree that novella acts as a comic microcosm of all sorts of larger misuses of power on a global scale.

Re. your last question -- I think there is a sense of retribution to some abusers of power in Cloud Atlas. Mitchell avoids a completely cyclical view of history -- I think he sees history as more of a spiral, with some factors of human existence, like greed and lust for power, occurring and recurring, but with some room for us to see some movement over time through our engagement in the virtual past and virtual future. The question is, will we move that spiral in the direction of progress, or in the direction of disaster? Mitchell leaves that door open.


message 26: by Steve (last edited Nov 02, 2012 06:29PM) (new) - added it

Steve Sckenda OMG. You have transcended the review and have invented a new genre of review--the novella review. This review itself is a WILL TO POWER. More after I re-read.


message 27: by Kris (last edited Nov 02, 2012 06:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Steve wrote: "OMG. You have transcended the review and have invented a new genre of review--the novella review. This review itself is a WILL TO POWER. More after I re-read."

Laughing here. I promise not to let the Will to Power go to my head.


Aubrey Steve wrote: "OMG. You have transcended the review and have invented a new genre of review--the novella review. This review itself is a WILL TO POWER. More after I re-read."

You better copyright that term quick. Everyone's going to be claiming it.


message 29: by Ian (last edited Nov 02, 2012 06:56PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Pagan-Gladfly Great review, Kris. Your paragraph about language is very insightful. Plus I like how you used it to segue into the sub-theme of a "quest":

"That quest to understand, and the impact of discovering points I had in common with Zachry, speak to a larger theme -- continuity in some aspects of human culture over time, and the necessity of preserving and understanding the past as much as possible, even as it recedes from us in time."

Instead of the quest to understand (perhaps, wisdom results from continuity of knowledge and understanding over time), many of the other characters are questing after power, fame and fortune.


message 30: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve Sckenda I loved the challenge of diving into Zachry’s language, identifying unfamiliar words, and considering what social factors led to their creation. I felt like an ethnographer, listening carefully to stories told by an informant from a very different world, and finding clues to recreate that world.

Yes, this is why I read. Well said.


message 31: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve Sckenda We think of an atlas as a book that guides us through unfamiliar terrain and captures the contours of mountains and valleys, the depths of seas and lakes. An atlas of clouds suggests something much more ephemeral -- clouds are constantly moving, shifting, transforming, and eventually dissipating into the ether. Mitchell’s conception of history is built on a sense of constant movement and change. Even as we try to capture the past in works of history, literature, and art, we change and transform its meaning to fit our present.

All things flow, nothing abides. You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are ever flowing on to you. We are and we are not. The universe is a vast Becoming. Multiplicity, variety, change are as real as unity, identity, being; the many are as reals as the One. The Many are the One; every change is a passage of things towards or from the condition of Fire. The One is the many; in the very heart of Fire flickers restless change. (Heraclitus)


message 32: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Pagan-Gladfly Kris, your last paragraph is also excellent.

Within the continuum of Free Will and Determinism, it's almost suggesting that inaction makes us an accomplice to Determinism or, at least, someone else's Will.


message 33: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Ian wrote: "Great review, Kris. Your paragraph about language is very insightful. Plus I like how you used it to segue into the sub-theme of a "quest":

"That quest to understand, and the impact of discovering..."


Thanks so much, Ian. I think that an interesting part of Cloud Atlas is Mitchell's coverage of how future generations transform the wisdom of the past. I had an entire section looking at that issue, particularly tracing the role of religion in Sloosha's Crossing and how knowledge from past societies transformed over time, particularly into religious belief. (Trying to avoid spoilers here, so sorry if I am seeming vague.) It leads to questions about the extent to which continuity with the past is possible -- and are we looking at continuity with the actual past or, more commonly, with the virtual past?


message 34: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve Sckenda Is there any form of power than can combat corporate and governmental power and greed? Luisa Rey presents another form of power: that of public outrage, driven by the media, which can provide a counterweight to greed that acts against the public interest. However, what happens when the media is co-opted by the same corporate powers which it should be scrutinizing?


The Power of Books (and Readers)? A check and balance against corporate powers? "When I picture a perfect reader, I always picture a monster of courage and curiosity, also something supple, cunning, cautious, a born adventurer and discoverer." Nietzsche


message 35: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Steve wrote: "I loved the challenge of diving into Zachry’s language, identifying unfamiliar words, and considering what social factors led to their creation. I felt like an ethnographer, listening carefully to ..."

Thank you, Steve. I loved this section -- it was my favorite part of Cloud Atlas (people seem to love it or hate it). I love ethnographies, and enjoyed the challenge of understanding Zachry's world view.


message 36: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Steve wrote: "All things flow, nothing abides. You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are ever flowing on to you. We are and we are not. The universe is a vast Becoming. Multiplicity, variety, change are as real as unity, identity, being; the many are as reals as the One. The Many are the One; every change is a passage of things towards or from the condition of Fire. The One is the many; in the very heart of Fire flickers restless change. (Heraclitus)

Perfect passage to quote, Steve!


B0nnie Formidable Kris! your power grows daily... first you take amazon, then you take goodreads. Hmm if this thread were a musical...

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I'm coming now, I'm coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
I'm guided by a signal in the heavens
I'm guided by this birthmark on my skin
I'm guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin


message 38: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Ian wrote: "Kris, your last paragraph is also excellent.

Within the continuum of Free Will and Determinism, it's almost suggesting that inaction makes us an accomplice to Determinism or, at least, someone els..."


Definitely -- inaction is a form of action. It's a decision. Mitchell is holding us all accountable. If we are not acting to oppose unjust acts and people and regimes, we make up the forces supporting them.


message 39: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris B0nnie wrote: "Formidable Kris! your power grows daily... first you take amazon, then you take goodreads. Hmm if this thread were a musical...

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change th..."


Bonnie, not only do you write wonderfully creative and engaging reviews, but you also do the same in your comments. I love the connections you draw -- and it helps when I have a wonderful standard going through my head. Thank you!


message 40: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Pagan-Gladfly B0nnie wrote: "Formidable Kris! your power grows daily... first you take amazon, then you take goodreads. Hmm if this thread were a musical..."

I can just imagine Bonnie as Jennifer Warnes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0rZ2C...

And Steve could be Stevie Ray Vaughan


message 41: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Steve wrote: "The Power of Books (and Readers)? A check and balance against corporate powers? "When I picture a perfect reader, I always picture a monster of courage and curiosity, also something supple, cunning, cautious, a born adventurer and discoverer." Nietzsche ."

Also perfect, Steve! I held off on mentioning Nietzsche specifically because other GR reviewers covered his influence so well, but this quotation is absolutely perfect. I think it's important that Mitchell is addressing the Luisa Rey section to his readers during a time when we see almost all of the US media in thrall to corporate powers. I think he's calling on us to engage actively in the fight against corporate and political corruption.


message 42: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Pagan-Gladfly B0nnie wrote: "I'm guided by a signal in the heavens
I'm guided by this birthmark on my skin "


Bonnie, I'm totally jealous of this lyric spotting.


B0nnie Thanks Kris! you've set a new standard for quotes, lol. I shall never again hold back!


message 44: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve Sckenda Individuals are not swept aside by the forces of history--one by one, we make up these forces. The actual future of our species and our planet is in our hands. Will we act for a just world, or sit back and contribute to the demise of our planet through inaction, or greed, or cowardice? These pivotal questions, and this critical choice, give Cloud Atlas its power.

I like it when a book increases my courage and a reason to exercise it--the freedom of self-determination (freedom of choice)rather than determinism (external forces eliminating my freedom). Whether it's illusion or not--I need to believe. I need books like oxygen.


message 45: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris B0nnie wrote: "Thanks Kris! you've set a new standard for quotes, lol. I shall never again hold back!"

Laughing here! I know I went overboard, but compared to the quotes I started out with, I thought I was being (relatively) restrained. :)


B0nnie Ian, I would kill to be able to sing like that.


message 47: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Steve wrote: "I like it when a book increases my courage and a reason to exercise it--the freedom of self-determination (freedom of choice)rather than determinism (external forces eliminating my freedom). Whether it's illusion or not--I need to believe. I need books like oxygen. "

I agree -- and I like this model of reading as active engagement -- we gain knowledge and inspiration, and then it is incumbent on us to act.


message 48: by Richard (new) - added it

Richard I would love to read & rave, Kris. But I haven't read the book yet, and I hope to, one of these days. So I will just take this bouquet of accolades as convincing evidence that once again you have excelled in reviewing.


message 49: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Richard wrote: "I would love to read & rave, Kris. But I haven't read the book yet, and I hope to, one of these days. So I will just take this bouquet of accolades as convincing evidence that once again you have e..."

You're so kind as always, Richard! I am looking forward to your review once you have read Cloud Atlas. :)


message 50: by Les (new) - added it

Les This is an amazing review, Kris. There is so much content and analysis here and yet nothing feels like a typical spoiler. That is good because I was so intrigued by and then enthralled with your review that I could not stop reading it in spite my having no experience with Mitchell. I have been wanting to read him anyway, but between S. Penke's reviews (and fanboy love for D. Mitch) and your review, I need to read him soon. I am getting the impression that he is a monster of our time and feel the need to start with Ghostwritten and move forward.

Wonderful review, thank you!


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