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Reincarnation and plot-holes?

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Frances Somewhere I heard that Mitchell said five of the six main characters were reincarnations of the same person. If the comet birthmark indicates this, then the one character who isn't a reincarnation is Zachry (since Meronym has the birthmark in that story).

So how can Luisa Rey and Timothy Cavendish both be reincarnations of the same person if they must have been alive at the same time? If Cavendish is in his 60s in the early 21st century then he must've been born before the 1975 of Luisa Rey's story? Is this intentional (as alluded to in Isaac Sachs' note about "actual" vs "virtual" histories) or have I missed something important?

Secondly, what is Frobisher referring to when he has some kind of deja vu abouts slitting Ayrs' throat? Is it Zachry slitting the Kona's throat? If so, how?

Sorry if this is a bit long, but it's been really bugging me.

Sharon That's a good point about Luisa Rey and Cavendish. The only thing I can figure is that, to Cavendish, Rey is a fictitious character in a manuscript he's reading--not a "real" person from a series of journal entries, letters, or recordings, like the other characters. This is very tricky because, for the reader, Rey feels as real as any of the others--especially since we're introduced to her before Cavendish and don't realize that her story is meant to be a fiction within the book itself.

As for Frobisher's deja vu, I thought it suggested a cyclical understanding of time. In Judeo-Christian teaching time is linear: God creates the world and everything happens afterwards. However, the Incans, Mayans, Hopi, Hindus, ancient Greeks and lots of non-Christian groups and cultures view time as a cycle, believing that the same things would happen again and again (like a wheel, not a line). Viewed this way, Frobisher's "deja vu" suggests a pattern destined to repeat.

But the structure of the book itself further complicates this. As we know, Frobisher lives long before Zachry, but given the fact that this section of Frobisher's story comes after what we've read about Zachry, it almost feels like memory. It's another slippery trick to make you reconsider how you think about time and cause and effect.

The beauty of it is that there probably isn't a black and white reason; the contradictions suggest intriguing ambiguities. I loved the book precisely for that--how much it made me wonder about these characters and what Mitchell is suggesting about the connections among all human beings, past and present, real and fictional.

message 3: by Leo (last edited Feb 19, 2012 07:16PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Leo Walsh @Sharon: Nice insights Sharon. I caught the same ideas, but did not think the use of time so clearly. I will have to read the book again. In fact, this is the sort of book that needs to be reread.

But have an observation of the "fictional." I, too, got the feeling the Louisa was "fictional." But all of the sections felt fictional--and yet real--to me. From Melville to Philip K. Dick to Russel Hoban--there were so many genre shifts. And yet, the themes of time and spirituality made everything cohere on many levels.

@Frances: Here is the way I see it--proved logically. The curse of a math major...

A) 5 of the 6 main characters are reincarnations.
B) All reincarnations have the same birthmark.
C) Based on this criteria, the reincarnations are:

1. Adam,
2. Frobish,
3. Louisa,
4. Cavendish,
5. Sonmi, and
6. Maryam.

D) Adam, Frobish, Louisa, Cavendish, Sonmi, are all the main protagonists in their sections
E) Maryam, while a supporting character, was a reincarnation, but not the main protagonist. Zach was the main protagonist in that section.

Ergo, Maryam is the odd incarnation out. :)

Also, re: Cavendish, all we know is that his story is some time in the 21st century. There is no reason to believe it must be today. But it does seem to be some time in the future due to the seriously eroded customer service Cavendish received on the railway.

Luisa may have died early. A death in 1980 would have Cavendish be 65 in 2045.

Frances I really love both of your ideas, ie, the cycling of time and the fictionality of the stories.

Sharon: I had noticed the suggestion of history repeating itself in the Maori/Moriori and Kona/Valleysmen interactions, but hadn't thought about it on the personal level of the characters. I would have expected the repetition to occur between two of the reincarnations (which I think we're agreeing Zachry is not), but, like you said, the inconsistencies are part of what makes the book so intriguing.

I like to think that the perspective moving away from Meronym in the last (middle?) section suggests that her reincarnation's/soul's cycle is coming to an end, and the focus is being moved to a new one. Given that, maybe Frobisher's deja vu also suggests that Zachry's own reincarnations will follow the same cycle as Frobisher's?

Maybe I'm overthinking it, but there's so much to think about in this book I don't know which trains of thought to follow!

Leo: I guess I'm reading too much into the dates, considering that the larger plot-hole would be the "fictional" nature of Luisa's story. The revelation about Luisa's story does call into question the nature of all the others, particularly Frobisher's and Ewing's, since they're "within" Luisa's. (Although part of my mind tries to rationalise it by assuming the author of Half-Lives had read Frobisher's letters, or may have been a reincarnation himself.) Next time I read it maybe I'll stop trying to work out which stories are "actual" and try to think of them all as "virtual histories".

Thanks for your replies. I've been wanting to discuss this book since the second I put it down, but I don't know anyone who's read it. I hope my thoughts on it make sense. Expressing my views on intangible concepts has never been my strong point.

message 5: by Sharon (last edited Feb 22, 2012 08:36AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sharon Oh yes, I had forgotten that Frobisher's letters appear in Rey's story! That does complicate it further. I do remember thinking for a moment that the author of the Rey mystery might be the reincarnated central character--but of course, Rey is the one with the birthmark.

I think it gets to that idea you mention of mixing up "actual" and "virtual" histories. Really, all fiction is virtual history and, when you think about it, all history is as well since it's either a first-hand retelling (like Zachry's), or a document, such as a journal or recording. The emotional import of the moment largely has to be imagined by the "reader" of the story/history in whatever time or place they happen to be. In this book, it's like Leo says--everything starts to cohere or align on a more spiritual level. And I really like the idea of the cycle's end with Meronym, who in a sense, passes the torch to Zachry. Then we move backwards through time to the cycle's beginning.

This is definitely a book that rewards even more with discussion!

Donna Hi, Frances. We recently completed a buddy read of Cloud Atlas in the Book Addicts group, and I had similar questions. We were also examining the synthesization of "fiction and non-fiction", like what has been mentioned here, but one of my main questions was the tie between Frobisher and Zachry because of that deja vu. I thought Zachry should be the reincarnation because of that foreshadowing, and was confused because it was Meronym. We got to discussing the meaning of names and I realized that Meronym was a "prescient", which means someone who knows the future. Robert's experience was actually a premonition, not a memory, so in my view, that incident linked his soul, if you will, to Meronym's. Just another possibility . . . of which there are many in this book! If you'd like to join our discussion, welcome :)

message 7: by Chris (last edited Apr 30, 2012 08:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chris Palmer The section about virtual histories is, I think, the key. I don't have my copy near me or I'd quote.

I took the ambiguities to be a reflection on not only the cyclical nature of time, but also of the "many worlds" hypothesis. That the "reincarnation" of the souls was really just seeing patterns in the clouds.

I loved how almost every story was fictional or suspect to each other and I wonder if the exceptions are meaningful. Frobisher suspected that Ewing's journal was sensationalized or fictional. Frobisher and Sixsmith's story appears to be "real" to Rey's reality, but Rey's story turns out to be a fictional thriller in Cavendish's world. Cavendish's story becomes a movie in Sonmi's world, but even Cavendish talks about sensationalizing events to make them more dramatic and you're never sure if the movie was pure fiction. To the people of Hawaii in Sloosha's Crossing, Sonmi was a goddess and her past was real, but they only knew of her through legends and the orison which they couldn't even understand.

What was cool, to me, was that each section felt "real" as I was reading it, but when viewed from the next segment, seemed like fiction while the current section seemed real. Also, the historically plausible ones (the first two and the fourth) didn't seem any more real than the alternate history one (the third) or the two set in the future.

In a way, the "souls" are all reincarnated within the head of the reader and it's impossible to map the stories onto the real world.

Sharon Oh, I like that! The idea of the patterns in the clouds. And the idea that each story feels real, but is then fictionalized or sensationalized in other world.

This book just keeps getting more amazing every time I think about it. I'll definitely have to read it again someday.

message 9: by Jeb (new)

Jeb goose not ewing is the 1st incarnation in my mind

Joshua Smith Jeb wrote: "goose not ewing is the 1st incarnation in my mind"

That's definitely what the filmmakers assume. You can tell by the trailer and film synopsis.

message 11: by Steven (last edited Sep 13, 2012 09:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Steven Vukcevich Joshua wrote: "Jeb wrote: "goose not ewing is the 1st incarnation in my mind"

That's definitely what the filmmakers assume. You can tell by the trailer and film synopsis."

I concur. If you view the birth-marked soul(s) as a single growing entity, it seems fitting that the first incarnation is villainous.

Henry Goose is a treacherous thief and murderer, with an almost animal-like competitiveness (foreshadowing the cannibalistic tribe).

Robert Frobisher is a very selfish being, yet he longs to find love and longs to create (music) rather than steal.

Luisa Ray strives for the truths in a wicked world, in the hopes of helping it.

Timothy Cavendish seeks freedom for himself and others.

Sonmi-451 sacrifices her freedom, in the hopes of helping the world and those like her.

Meronym carries with her a tremendous capacity for knowledge, pacifism, cultural relativism, and a delicate wisdom of life, death, and everything in between, before, and after.

message 12: by Jeb (new)

Jeb @steven - i agree - this way it is a progression: murderous thief - troubled person who chooses to create rather than destroy (although he still has murderous urges) - truth seeker- freedom seeker and attainer -Savior
/martyr - and lastly a bodhisattva

Frances @Jeb and Steven - That thought had never occurred to me, but does fit really nicely thematically. Although I guess it does detract from my theory that the cycle will repeat with Zachry, since he isn't overly like Henry Goose... But then I also thought he was the only lead character that wasn't one of the reincarnations.

@Joshua - I think the filmmakers are working closely with the author (and by "working closely" I mean I saw a promotional picture of them together once), so if they show it that way then it's probably right.

Does anyone remember if the birthmark is mentioned in Adam's story? And if so, on whom?

As a side note, I've been reading all of Mitchell's other books (but haven't got around to rating them on here) and most of them seem to tie into this same universe. Ghostwritten is particularly good to read after Cloud Atlas.

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

Gwen Herrmann I could be misremembering, but I though that Cavendish was the odd man out, as when the question of the birthmark comes up, he mentions that he has one, but it is not on his shoulder and it is not comet-shaped.

Frances @Owein - I remember that too, but thought that maybe Cavendish just didn't interpret the shape as a comet (even though it was the same as the others). I also wasn't sure if the location of the birthmark was important.

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

Sara Mitchell was definitely involved. This NY Times article is all about it. From his perspective.

Also, there are other reincarnated souls in the book. Cuts down on casting costs. ;)

message 17: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara There are also many themes of attempting to achieve freedom and attempting to break away. Even the reincarnation of a soul is existence in a type of prison, isn't it?

Christine I appreciate reading all these different entries! Thanks to all! Everyone's input is substantial and significant. I just love this book but I don't personally know anyone who's read it so this discussion forum is awesome. I know that I will reread CA several times and still find things I missed the first time around, which is why CA is superb reading and Mitchell is masterful. Thank you!!!

Frances @Randy - and the converse: can we believe the other stories are real? We only have their word on it. Maybe Cavendish lied about the existence of her book in the first place.

Also, to those who have been tying-in the movie casting with the reincarnations, this article has some interesting points:

I haven't seen the movie myself (I don't think it could live up to the book), but this article does make me wonder how much the directors may have deviated from Mitchell's original intentions.

Marks54 I really enjoyed the book and had not read his other work - although I likely will now.

As to reincarnation, he certainly has put that on the table in the book, but he has talked about other ideas as well. For example, he talks about genetics and genomics, especially in the story about Somni 451. Well, the birthmarks could be passed along with a genetic mutation in the section of the genome that controls skin coloring, hair color, tumor suppression, etc. Depending on the particular mutation, other traits could also be passed along too. That is a physical basis for passing on the birthmark - and it could be spread over a broad population. There is no reason why the characters we meet in the book exhaust the people in that world with the birthmark.

I also thought that Mitchell's use of media was important in moving the plot along in the book. In the first story, Adam encounters the records of the ancients when he falls in the pit and then passes his story on in a journal. In the next story, the journal is the medium from the earlier time and both letters and a musical score are the media of transmission. Luisa reads the letters and hears the music and her story is transmitted in a book. Cavendish reads the book and his story becomes a movie. Somni watches the movie of Cavendish and creates the Oraison (multimedia?), which continues the link in Hawaii, although we apparently end up back with the archaic records of the ancients at the end. So you have a progression of developing richer media that ends up looping back to the beginning - at least in terms of media. Go figure.

message 21: by Alex (new)

Alex Zachary is the last reincarnation, not Meronym. Zachary is the one with the birth mark, it is on the back of his head and as the veiwer you dont find out he has it until the very end of the movie when he is and old man looking up at the stars.

message 22: by Alex (new)

Alex These are the charcters who were the reincarnations and where their birth marks were to prove it.

1.Adam Ewig: his birth mark is on his chest
2. Robert Frobisher:his birth mark is on his lower back
3. Luisa Rey: her birth mark is on her left shoulder
4. Timothy Cavendish: his birth mark is on his thigh
5. Sonmi-451: her birth mark is one her neck
6. Zachary: his birth mark is on the back of his head

Nowhere in the super future does it show that Meronym has the birth mark. Also she did not have to face such a strong struggling decision like zachary, and all the reincarnation had to face some kind of a struggle whether it was outer or inner.

message 23: by Dan (last edited Nov 10, 2012 06:28AM) (new)

Dan O'neill The search for understanding of the Timothy Cavendish timeline actually led me to this site. There are a lot of great observations here, but I think that the way the birthmarks are depicted in the book and in the movie are two similar but different things.

In the book, the birthmarks identify the protagonist in each story. Although, the Cavendish birthmark is not as clearly defined as the others. So I am not 100% certain that he would be the reincarnation of Luisa Rey. I know the timeline does not seem to work either, but I do not think that Mitchell really states what year the 'ordeal' happens. We assume it is present day, but it could be present day 40 years from now. We tend to think the future will be much different than today, so we assume Cavendish is present day. I would be interested if someone can prove me wrong on this.

The movie handling of re-incarnation is sometimes a little more strait forward but still confusing. The Tom Hanks character may be the key. His persona goes from the evil Dr. Henry Goose to Zachary with only slight improvements in character along his journey. Is the persona the re-incarnation of the man here? I think that is what the directors on the movie would like us to believe. Does the birthmark signify something differently than the reincarnation of the protagonist in the prior story? Most definitely.

Therefore, I believe that the movie version of Cavendish, although he is the protagonist in his story, is not Luisa Rey's reincarnation. Many more people are reincarnations in the movie version and their purposes vary. I think the role of Cavendish is that of a facilitator. Someone who assists the continuation of the story and theme of the movie, which is ascension from our most dark cannibalistic nature ('Soylent Green is People') to an individual of higher purpose. Ayrs is another facilitator in the book and movie. He facilitates the music that is struggling to get out of Forbisher who is not really that pleasant of a character. Where else do we see this role in the book and the movie? The Archivist in Neo Corpus is one example I would come up with. I am sure there are others.

The only problem with my logic, is whose story is Cavendish fulfilling? His own? Luisa Rey? Both? Is he the nexus point of the whole story?

All in all, I believe there are many incarnations of both people and roles throughout both the book and movie.

Comments and feedback are appreciated.

message 24: by Mary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mary WhIle I did not see this at all when I read the book (and regard the book and movie as two different beings in this sense), when I saw the movie i found myself greatly reminded of a DW Griffiths great silent epic film, Intolerance - which was told in similar fashion to the Cloud Atlas movie, jumping from story to story - in that case there were four stories being presented, one from ancient Persia, Christ's crucifixion, a story of wiping out/murder of Huguenots, and a present day story of a young man on murderers' row, about to be hanged for a murder that he did not commit. As you can imagine it was quite melodramatic, and in all the old stories, Intolerance prevails, but in the current day story the young man is saved. While all the Cloud Atlas stories end happily, without subjugation or intolerance prevailing, my sense is that the filmmakers had seen Intolerance. (Pity it is not shown much these days, I saw it in college years ago, but I guess Griffiths is on the no-no list for his black-hating Birth of a Nation.)

message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

I don't think the birthmarks signify the same soul, they signify the soul that is seeking freedom and/or truth in some form. Yes, that means there are multiple souls, which makes Cloud Atlas even more difficult to figure out. But I like what they did in the movie by having the same actors play the reincarnated souls (most of the time, not always).

FYI Cavendish is not Luisa Rey. In the book he says that he hasn't been running since he was a young man in the 70's. So he had to have been alive when Luisa Rey was. I think the directors made a fine distinction here by letting Jim Broadbent play both the composer Ayrs and Cavendish. It makes more sense that Cavendish is Ayrs chronologically, and their personalities are more consistent.

I also thought it was strange that the directors gave Zachry the birthmark instead of Meronym. Maybe they were trying to suggest to fans of the book that it was really was a group of souls and not just one.

Very fascinating topic!

message 26: by Leo (last edited Nov 13, 2012 08:35AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Leo Walsh Alex wrote: "These are the charcters who were the reincarnations and where their birth marks were to prove it.

1.Adam Ewig: his birth mark is on his chest
2. Robert Frobisher:his birth mark is on his lower bac..."

Hey Alex. It has been a while since I read "Cloud Atlas", but the text makes it clear that Meronym had the birthmark. Don't have the text right now near me, so I cannot say exactly where.

message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

What I found really interesting about Cloud Atlas was that there was no one cohesive "message" carried across the different stories. In some of them, (Letters from Zedelghem, An Orison of Sonmi-451) things turn out badly; in others (Half-Lives, The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish) there's a happy ending. Not all the characters are freedom fighters, either: Frobisher is a self-obsessed so-and-so. It left me with the impression that, even if it destroys us, fighting oppression is the only possible choice; but I don't know how that might fit in with Frobisher. Any ideas?

Maria Meronym has the birthmark. Zachry sees it when she is sleeping. He chooses kindness when it come to Meronym, rather than to 'do her in' as he's tempted to. Frobisher, in my reading, is a freedom fighter, though not inthe obvious sense. Not all of the stories are about freedom from some cultural or societal tyranny - as in the obvious abolitionist cases of Sonmi and Adam Ewing. For Frobisher, its the freedom to be himself and to achieve something special in music, even if it doesn't lead to acceptance and success. As base as he can be, he spends most of his time seeking an elevated form of humanity, through music. For Cavendish, its freedom from old age, the concept of which is taken to an extreme in the Sonmi story.

message 29: by JM (new)

JM Romig Alex wrote: "These are the charcters who were the reincarnations and where their birth marks were to prove it.

1.Adam Ewig: his birth mark is on his chest
2. Robert Frobisher:his birth mark is on his lower bac..."

Meronym has the birthmark in the book, Zachry has it in the movie.

Frances Looks like the release of the movie has drawn more people into this discussion. Welcome everybody! But just to make things a bit clearer for everyone, can we specify when we are talking about the movie? Looks like it does deviate in some key areas from the book (they gave Zachry the birthmark?!) so it's going to get confusing if half of us are discussing one thing and half the other.

Frances @M - I vaguely remember wondering this myself. I may just be assuming has Ewing has one since I read that Mitchell said five of the six main characters were reincarnations, and Zachry definitely isn't.

message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

When I started reading the book, I suppose I had a different take on the aspect of reincarnation, namely that there were two souls traveling together through time. And actually, lately, I've been thinking that it may have been three. Namely, the main protagonist (the one with the birthmark), the best friend/lover, and the evil temptress/false friend.

1. Adam Ewing is bound to Autua (we see that there is a link from the first moment that they lock eyes); the evil temptress is Goose, who at first seems like a friend, but then we realize is trying to kill Ewing.

2. Robert Frobisher is bound to Sixsmith. Toward the end of his letters, Frobisher refers to Sixsmith as his one true love. Throughout, it is clear that Sixsmith is trying to help him; Ayrs seems to be the temptress in this story. He pretends to be a benefactor to Frobisher and then reveals that he has been planning all along to blackmail him.

3. Luisa Rey is bound to Sixsmith? Isaac Sachs? Joe Napier? Assuming that the story is linear, then Sixsmith is the only connection that would make sense, even though there are other clear allies in this story; Smokes seems to be the temptress in this story. He hides in plain site when he visits Luisa's mother's house and pretends to be someone else. He also pretends to be a firefighter after the bank explosion, pretending to save her.

4. Cavendish is bound to Ernie? They help each other escape; The temptress would appear to be Cavendish's brother, Denholme. He pretends like he's helping Cavendish, but tricks him into moving into the home.

5. Sonmi is bound to Yoona? Yoona enlightens Sonmi in the beginning. The temptress is Hae-Joo Im, who pretends to be protecting Sonmi the whole time, but is actually a Unanimity agent.

6. Meronym is bound to Zachry. The temptress here is Old Georgie, who is constantly trying to convince Zachry to do the wrong thing.

I know that I am probably straining too hard to come up with connections, but I had to write it out, if only to get the idea out of my head.

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

Gwen I'm sad that this novel will become a Hollywood movie: all the evolutionary and other scientic, and even deep human nuances will be lost.

Then people will rush to read the book, and find that their hops are dashed.

Anyone else feel that way?


message 34: by Mary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mary Glendy, I was quite pleased with the movie, and appropriately the movie is different from the book because of the different medium. One interesting aspect of the question of reincarnation is that all roles were done by a fairly small group of actors, although not carrying through personas from one role to another. The movie is complicated enough that the (relatively few) people who see it are not likely to race to read the book unless they appreciated that events were going on in several layers. I was surprised that the book adapted this well to a movie, and am not sure what makes adaptations work and what does not. For example, two of my favorite novels are Of Mice and Men, which has several movie adaptations which I like, and The Razor's Edge, where I have either simply avoided the movie (Bill Murray) or seen all of the first 5 minutes (Tyrone Power) the before turning off in disgust, not wanting my favorite to be sullied. Nice thing about movies is that you not required to see them, no matter how much you liked the book.

Katie I just finished reading the book, and the thread. My thoughts on the reincarnated character:

To me, they all seem to share certain characteristics. And I feel like the birthmark could very well be a red herring.

Laura Frances wrote: "@M - I vaguely remember wondering this myself. I may just be assuming has Ewing has one since I read that Mitchell said five of the six main characters were reincarnations, and Zachry definitely is..."
I really like this idea of not only the characters and their essences reincarnating, but also the replay of relationships and dilemmas through the work. I think this reflects both the repeating nature of history, and the fairly unchanging human nature over the span of 500 years.

The same pulls of religion are echoed in both Ewing's (what we take to be the first) and Zachry's narratives, when really they could almost be one and the same story. I think it is really important here that we take Meronym to be the 'birthmarked' reincarnation, as she is the reincarnation of the visitor (Ewing) to the native, under-educated island, to Zachry's perspective of the native inhabitant. Much like Autua, he follows the newcomer out of his native island and onto a new world.

Budianto As for Frobisher's deja vu, I thought it suggested a cyclical understanding of time. In Judeo-Christian teaching time is linear: God creates the world and everything happens afterwards. However, the Incans, Mayans, Hopi, Hindus, ancient Greeks and lots of non-Christian groups and cultures view time as a cycle, believing that the same things would happen again and again (like a wheel, not a line). Viewed this way, Frobisher's "deja vu" suggests a pattern destined to repeat.

Yes, there are some hints of cyclical ideas in the book :
- Ayrs' work : "Eternal Recurrence" (14th - ix - 1931)
- Ayrs' dream of Papa Song cafe (29th - viii - 1931)
- Like mentioned by the others, Henry Goose dug out teeth of cannibals' 'banquet hall', in Chatham, near New Zealand, which is near Hawaii where the last story took place. Plus, Moriori & Maori, as Valleysman & Kona.
- As mentioned by you, Frobisher's deja vu.

message 38: by Harry (last edited Jan 22, 2013 10:20PM) (new)

Harry Palmer J.E. wrote: "there's a place in the book where one of the characters says that you never know when you will meet yourself. something like that, which seemed to be an alllusion to what you're discussing, here."

I think J.E.s comment is getting to something. Clearly Cavendish's life is overlapping in time with Luisa Rey. "He hadn't run since the 70s". The author wasn't sloppy with that. It was deliberate and clear that two of our common soul characters existed at the same time.

I don't think the book ever says directly that Zachry has a birthmark but there is a looser thread that ties the common souls together and that is that they all are connected by at least one deja vu moment and there is a link of one character coming in contact with the historical record (even if it appears to be fiction) of another. Based on these looser connections and the fact that Rey and Cavendish are contemporaneous it seems very plausible that Zachry is one of the common souls. I think the author is trying to imply something a little more mysterious and different than simple reincarnation.

Both Zachry and Meronym see the orison of Sonmi and have a kind of recognition if not deja vu feeling from it. Add to that the apparent "reverse in time" deja vu of Frobisher remembering Zachry's throat cutting and you have our soul meeting him/her self in the friendship of Zachry and Meronym.

message 39: by Harry (new)

Harry Palmer Budianto wrote: "As for Frobisher's deja vu, I thought it suggested a cyclical understanding of time. In Judeo-Christian teaching time is linear: God creates the world and everything happens afterwards. However, th..."

As far as the cyclical time idea goes...I think the author laid out his idea of time in two ways. 1st in the layout of the book - it is laid out in nesting dolls order - not sequential or cyclical. 2nd Isaac Sach's writes about time before he dies and describes the present as the only real time and it is flanked by the past and the future. This again is a form of nesting dolls order if you envision any given doll as the present and the two pieces of the surrounding doll as being the past and the future. The deeper you go you move to the new present but it is always surrounded by the past and the future. This is kind of messy metaphor but I think it is the concept of time that the author wants to convey. In this model it is just as reasonable for a forward in time deja vu as a backward in time deja vu.

Cecily Harry wrote: "...I don't think the book ever says directly that Zachry has a birthmark ..."

It doesn't. But it does say that Meronym has it.

message 41: by Harry (new)

Harry Palmer Cecily wrote: "Harry wrote: "...I don't think the book ever says directly that Zachry has a birthmark ..."

It doesn't. But it does say that Meronym has it."

I'm not sure what your point is. What I'm saying is that the other evidence provided about Zachry and Meronym is very interesting and thought provoking including the fact that Zachry is the main character of his story and all the other common souls are the main characters.

I was assuming in my analysis that what you said is true, namely that it doesn't mention that Zachry has the birthmark but it does mention that Meronym has it. But I guess I was unclear.. so thanks for the clarification:)

Cecily Sorry if I misunderstood you, Harry. Thanks for clearing it up.

I'm now wondering about who is the "main" character in "Sloosha's Crossin". It's all told by Zachry, and so from his point of view, but is he really the main character? I'm not sure, particularly taking into account the presence/absence of birthmarks.

message 43: by Harry (new)

Harry Palmer Cecily wrote: "Sorry if I misunderstood you, Harry. Thanks for clearing it up. "

That's ok. I didn't phrase my thoughts very well.

I might have to read the book again or at least parts of it to help sort out some of my thoughts but I don't know when I'll have time!

Zachry is the narrator of his story. Of course, that alone doesn't mean that he is the main character. However, more time and information is spent on him and what he thinks and experiences then on Meronym. There are sections where Meronym in absent but yet the story moves on with Zachry at the center. Because of this I think it is clear that he is the main character.

It is also interesting that all the stories are presented as historical records of one sort or another. Even "Sloosha's Crossin" is a historical record in that Zachry is passing it down to others in the form of a orally transmitted story. It is also interesting and circular that the stories progress and then regress in technology from paper, to a movie, to a holographic recording, and finally to an oral retelling.

Budianto Harry wrote: 2nd Isaac Sach's writes about time before he dies and describes the present as the only real time and it is flanked by the past and the future.

Ah, that's interesting. After reading your comment, and upon checking Isaac's writing and reading some of comments in this forum about stories of previous eras being not really factual, I realize that in this Isaac's writing the author also put the idea that the previous story (with respect to the one we're currently reading) could be virtual past,i.e. which was not really happening as exactly as it's told (Ewing's Journal which was doubted by RF, RF's letter which may contain some fictions, and so on until Zachary's son who doubted some part of Zachary's story)

message 45: by Harry (new)

Harry Palmer Budianto wrote: "Ah, that's interesting. After reading your comment, and upon checking Isaac's writing and reading some of comments in this forum about stories of previous eras being not really factual"

I think you are right. I think Mitchell deliberately made the past fuzzy and hard to determine fact from fiction. The birthmark is the concrete evidence that ties each past to the present of a given story but does that make the past more real or the present less real?

The deja vu occurrences are very strong in all the stories except "Sloosha's Crossin" I re-read that story and there is nothing that I could find that could be considered a deja vu except for Zachry being mesmerized by the hologram of Sonmi. Maybe this fact added to the fact/fiction fuzziness of the various pasts. Zachry's son is where the books finds it's "present time" and "Sloosha's Crossin" is the story closest to the books "present time" so if it deviates from the patterns of the rest of the stories it just adds to the fuzziness of the past.

message 46: by Chris (new)

Chris It seems to be quite common for the Timothy Cavendish parts of the story to be causing the most confusion, and I felt that this part was confusing as well.

One interesting point I read was that it could very well not be our present day, but a near future in which his parts of the story are set. This is something I wondered about. If we were to assume that he is a reincarnation of Luisa Rey, and that she died early, we could assume that his story line takes place a few decades in the future. This isn't inconceivable, when my parents were children everyone thought we'd live on moon colonies and take all of our meals in pill form, so the near future is never as futuristic as we might naturally assume. Although I would say the culture shock that a time traveller from the '60s would experience would be considerable - everything from the amount of traffic to mp3 players would be hard to accept, but at the same time our cars don't fly, we aren't living on the moon and 2001 wasn't nearly as exciting as the science fiction story based in that year, so the world would be recognisable if not a little overwhelming. In a few decades time there will be cars and trains, nursing homes for the infirmed and (at least i should bloody well hope so) pubs that show the football. I was keeping my eyes peeled for clues as to the rough date in which Cavendish's story might be set, and I remember him mentioning some things that might very well indicate that it is set in the "present" (if the book was published in 2004 this present is going to be about ten years old, maybe more depending on when his passages were written). There is a reference to a TV presenter, a "Jeremy Someone". He had "Heathcliffe eyebrows" and a "terrier manner". Now, who might this be? Could he be referring to Jeremy Paxman? I don't really watch much television, especially when it comes to talk shows and things like that, so might anybody who's cleverer than me be able shed some light on who this "Jeremey Someone" might be? Also I feel like I can remember him referring to Kylie Minogue - i looked for the reference while writing this and couldn't find it, and it may just be a really mundane dream I had or something, but i feel like I remember reading that. The reason it would have stuck out to me was that I was looking for temporal clues and that the character is of a reasonably advanced age, yet i'm in my early twenties but probably wouldn't recognise the newest pop songs or who is "singing" (i use the word loosely) them, so him mentioning a pop star by name stood out. If he actually did, that is, I couldn't find the specific reference and am wondering if it might be a dream or a false memory or something. In any case, i feel as though there may be clues here and there that could pin him down to being somewhere near the present. Assuming this is the case, it is odd, because it would make the idea of Luisa Rey's soul migrating to him illogical due to the time periods in which the two characters are set. And it's true that he mentions having a birth mark that he doesn't believe to be comet shaped, but let's not forget that he was skeptical to Luisa Rey's allusions to being Robert Frobisher reincarnated, to the extent that while editing Half Lives he wanted these references taken out. He may perceive the birthmark differently than somebody who would subscribe to the possibility of reincarnation. So this is a very puzzling issue - and I don't think that the author would make any glaring mistakes so there is something interesting about this.

I also have a question.

I am confused about 'ol Georgie. I assumed that Zachary was speaking figuratively when he referred to meeting Georgie, and assumed that he believed that certain bad events were the manifestation of this devil, but had spoken as though he had literally met him while telling the story to make it more exciting. I have had my doubts about this though. I'm torn; Is he dramatising this by telling people that they literally met eye to eye while he recounts his story, or does he actually think he has seen and spoken to this devil? If it is the latter, then why might he think he has seen this devil? Has there been some genetic defect as a result of "The Fall" that causes a type of insanity in people, that causes them to hallucinate? I have been clutching at straws trying to think of other theories behind this but I won't go into all of these here but that part definitely confused me. What are we thinking about 'ol Georgie? Does he exist, was Zachary dramatising the encounters or are there other theories?

Of course, I suppose it's all up for interpretation and any perception is as valid as the next.

Sorry to have gone on so long, any replies would be greatly appreciated!

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

Anne Anyone have any insight into Ayrs' dream where he hears the music he needs Frobisher to write down? He says the dream was terrifying: there was a grotesquely-lit underground cave where all the women had the same face and the food is soap. Clearly a premonition to the Somni story. Agree that Frobisher is the one who is reincarnated, but this certainly makes for some head-scratching.

message 48: by Joaquín (new)

Joaquín M. de león After reading this great book about a year ago, and just watched the film, i assume that the star mark is not a clue of incarnations, but a clue for the reader: "Follow this thread".
In book, Mitchel never talks directly about incarnations, he left this thoughts to the reader.

Fixing chars in time, assuming they were incarnations, Rey is out of line, since Frobisher dies in '36 and Cavendish is born in '47.

Talking about the film, wich Mitchel is involved, only Hugo Weaver's chars are directly connected, since they represent the mad side of humanity, the power, the human ambition, fron being a real threat, to just a ghost in the mind of Zachry.

This is the point of this history: We must break our chains, being free, avoiding the voice of the ghost in our head.
Life is short, we are just as ephemeral as the clouds, which appear, disappear and reappear, following a cycle that someday will bring them back across the sky.

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

K. Velk I'm stopping in here, having read a few of the earlier comments, because I just saw the movie and I am thinking about this book (again). I didn't hate the movie, (although I expected to after all the reviews I read)and I could talk a lot about it but I won't. Getting back to the book, about which I could also go on and on about, I'll limit myself tonight to one point. When read the book last year I immediately got the impression that the Luisa Rey story was written, very cleverly, in style that was not David Mitchell, but David Mitchell imitating a best-selling potboiler author. I noticed the change in key right away. This made sense when we learn, later, long after her story has been introduced, that she's (also? only?) a character in a manuscript submitted for possible publication to Timothy Cavendish. The Louisa story is chock-a-block with supermarket-best-seller conventions that are missing from the other stories (the waif kid next door, a villain called "Bill Smoke;" Louisa herself could have stepped out of '70s movie of the week). What do others think? What does it all mean? ;-)

Cecily K. wrote: "I immediately got the impression that the Luisa Rey story was written, very cleverly, in style that was not David Mitchell, but David Mitchell imitating a best-selling potboiler author..."

I agree, and I would go further and say that every section is in the style of a different author/genre.

What is Mitchell's personal style? Hard to say. Even his books with a single narrative (Black Swan Green and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet) are very different from each other.

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