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A postmodern visionary who is also a master of styles of genres, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian lore of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco, Haruki Murakami, and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction as profund as it is playful. Now in his new novel, David Mitchell explores with daring artistry fundamental questions of reality and identity.
Cloud Atlas begins in 1850 with Adam Ewing, an American notary voyaging from the Chatham Isles to his home in California. Along the way, Ewing is befriended by a physician, Dr. Goose, who begins to treat him for a rare species of brain parasite. . . .
Abruptly, the action jumps to Belgium in 1931, where Robert Frobisher, a disinherited bisexual composer, contrives his way into the household of an infirm maestro who has a beguiling wife and a nubile daughter. . . . From there we jump to the West Coast in the 1970s and a troubled reporter named Luisa Rey, who stumbles upon a web of corporate greed and murder that threatens to claim her life. . . . And onward, with dazzling virtuosity, to an inglorious present-day England; to a Korean superstate of the near future where neocapitalism has run amok; and, finally, to a postapocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii in the last days of history.
But the story doesn’t end even there. The narrative then boomerangs back through centuries and space, returning by the same route, in reverse, to its starting point. Along the way, Mitchell reveals how his disparate characters connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.
As wild as a videogame, as mysterious as a Zen koan, Cloud Atlas is an unforgettable tour de force that, like its incomparable author, has transcended its cult classic status to become a worldwide phenomenon.
509 pages, Paperback
First published March 1, 2004
The amanuensis Eric William Fenby
We Prescients, she answered, after a beat, b’lief when you die you die an there ain’t no comin back.
But what ’bout your soul? I asked.
Prescients don’t b’lief souls exist.
But ain’t dyin’ terrorsome cold if there ain’t nothin’ after?
Yay—she sort o’ laughed but not smilin’, nay— our truth is terror-some cold.
Jus’ that once I sorried for her. Souls cross the skies o’ time, Abbess’d say, like clouds crossin’ skies o’ the world. Sonmi’s the east’n’west, Sonmi’s the map an’ the edges o’ the map an’ b’yonder the edges.
"Another war is always coming, Robert. They are never properly extinguished. 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. War, Robert, is one of humanity's two eternal companions."This book is a message, yes. About the never-ending power struggle that seems to be inherent to humanity, that drives it forward - until one day it perhaps drives it to the brink of demise. It's about the amazing resilience of humanity that bends but never breaks under the never-ending forward march of the power struggle. It is about our seemingly inevitable separation into the opposing camps - the oppressors and the oppressed, the powerful and the powerless, the haves and the have-nots, justifying those sometimes murky and sometimes crisp division lines with the arbitrary but hard-to-overturn notions of superiority and entitlement. It is also about the never-ending human struggle against such division, in one form or another.
"But, Adam, the world is wicked. Maoris prey on Moriori, Whites prey on darker-hued cousins, fleas prey on mice, cats prey on rats, Christians on infidels, first mates on cabin boys, Death on the Living. The weak are meat, the strong do eat."
"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."As for the rest of the stories, David Mitchell plays with every genre and style he can imagine, trying to fully immerse himself in the period, real or imaginary, that he chooses to describe - with mixed results, at least for me.
"He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!" Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?"
“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.”Cloud Atlas is about human slavery and captivity as it exists in all its forms, at all points in time. Throughout history, humans have enslaved each other on the basis of skin color and racial background, religious beliefs and cultural or ethnic differences. The weak have been enslaved to the strong, the old to the young, and the poor to the well-to-do. This novel goes a step further by exploring the concept of knowledge and how it relates to the socioeconomic hierarchy of the future. Knowledge is all that separates us from savagery, and yet it is our most transient asset. I am probably making this book sound like a course in sociology, though it is anything but. Cloud Atlas is a brilliantly constructed novel delineating the cyclicality of human civilization and it is written by someone who has immediately become one of my favorite authors. In fact, David Mitchell’s only flaw is that he is indecisive. Unable to choose among the various genres of fiction available, he ends up...writing them all! Cloud Atlas is historical fiction, it is a dark comedy, it is a crime thriller, it is science fiction, it is a post-apocalyptic dystopia.
I watched clouds awobbly from the floor o’ that kayak. 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.
Spent the fortnight gone in the music room, reworking my year's fragments into a 'sextet for overlapping soloists': piano, clarinet, 'cello, flute, oboe and violin, each in its own language of key, scale, and color. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky? Shan't know until it's finished.I like that Mitchell has a sense of humor about his story. :) Like this Cloud Atlas Sextet musical piece written by one of the characters, each story is told by a different voice, and cuts off abruptly (sometimes in mid-sentence) until the central story. Then the storyline moves back again through time, wrapping up each tale. To use another simile, the novel is very much like a set of Russian nesting dolls that is taken apart and then put back together again.
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.
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.
Spent the fortnight gone in the music room, reworking my year’s fragments into a ‘sextet for overlapping soloists’: piano, clarinet, ’cello, flute, oboe and violin, each in its own language of key, scale and colour. In the 1st set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the 2nd, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky? Shan’t know until it’s finished, and by then it’ll be too late, but it’s the 1st thing I think of when I wake, and the last thing I think of before I fall asleep. (Sceptre edition, p. 463)
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. (p. 461)