Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas

A Novel

Book - 2004
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By the New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Clocks | Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

A postmodern visionary and one of the leading voices in twenty-first-century fiction, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian love 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 profound as it is playful. In this groundbreaking novel, an influential favorite among a new generation of writers, 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.

Praise for Cloud Atlas

"[David] Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel's every page." -- The New York Times Book Review

"One of those how-the-holy-hell-did-he-do-it? modern classics that no doubt is--and should be--read by any student of contemporary literature." --Dave Eggers

"Wildly entertaining . . . a head rush, both action-packed and chillingly ruminative." -- People

"The novel as series of nested dolls or Chinese boxes, a puzzle-book, and yet--not just dazzling, amusing, or clever but heartbreaking and passionate, too. I've never read anything quite like it, and I'm grateful to have lived, for a while, in all its many worlds." --Michael Chabon

" Cloud Atlas ought to make [Mitchell] famous on both sides of the Atlantic as a writer whose fearlessness is matched by his talent." -- The Washington Post Book World

"Thrilling . . . One of the biggest joys in Cloud Atlas is watching Mitchell sashay from genre to genre without a hitch in his dance step." -- Boston Sunday Globe

"Grand and elaborate . . . [Mitchell] creates a world and language at once foreign and strange, yet strikingly familiar and intimate." -- Los Angeles Times

From the Hardcover edition.
Publisher: New York : Random House Trade Paperbacks, c2004.
Edition: First U.S. edition
ISBN: 9780375507250
Branch Call Number: MITCHELL
Characteristics: 509 pages ; 22 cm.


From Library Staff

I started reading this late last year and I LOVED it (at first) and got stuck about half way, but I am determined to finish this book. It gets great reviews and I remember liking the movie, so I think once I get past the slump this can potentially be a new favorite.

From the critics

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Aug 05, 2017

Spoilers Ahead ⚠️. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is impressive and quite unlike anything I have ever read.

It consists of six inter-related stories, the first five of which break off abruptly in the middle. The reader is left in suspense. After the fifth story, a sixth story is told, this time uninterrupted. That story, one of a post-apocalyptic world set in twenty-second century Hawaii, is the center piece of the book. Following it, the previously interrupted five stories are finished in reverse order. Thus, the structure of the book is: 1-2-3-4-5-6-5-4-3-2-1.

The main character in each story has some sort of connection to the main character in the next story. Thus, all six characters are linked in some way, perhaps through reincarnation. At the very least, they all share a birthmark of similar shape and in a similar location.
The characters are as follows.

•Adam Ewing, an American lawyer and diarist traveling in the South Seas in the 1850s.

•Robert Forbisher, a fallen Cambridge student attempting to repair his musical career, reputation and bank account in 1930s Belgium through the offices of a renowned English composer.

•Luisa Rey, an investigative journalist who uncovers the greed and malfeasance of the operators of a nuclear power plant in Southern California of the 1970s.

•Timothy Cavendish, a vanity publisher in present-day England who, while escaping a wronged and violent author/client, is “imprisoned” in an old age home.

•Sonmi 451, a female fabricant in Korea of the future who is made fully human by a resistance movement and then hunted by the establishment.

•Meronym, a “super woman” and survivor of the post-apocalyptic world.
Three of the main characters are men.

All but two, Forbisher and Cavendish (who posses some redeeming qualities and are otherwise charming), are noble and exemplary human beings. Sonmi 451, although a fabricant, may be the most beautifully human of all.
Meronym, of the sixth story, and my favorite, is a brilliant, resourceful survivor of the post-apocalyptic world. She possesses toughness, compassion, skill, calmness and courage, all of which border on the super human.

Except for Ewing, each character learns about the story of the character in the immediately preceding story by reading an account of that character’s story or watching a video of it. Accordingly, each story follows the prior story, chronologically. For example, Forbisher reads Adam Ewing’s diary entries. Sonmi 451 sees a Disney, “future speak” for movie, of Timothy Cavendish’s so-called “ghastly ordeal.”

Not only is each story set in a different time and place, it is written in a different style, an attribute reminiscent of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Other literary parallels include Herman Melville, Evelyn Waugh, Raymond Chandler, Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) and Toni Morrison. The future speak, e.g., Disney for movie, Starbuck for coffee, is clever, but probably not so to trademark lawyers.

There is so much going on in this book. I have not even scratched the surface.
A major and recurring theme is the dichotomy among men and within man — that human beings are innately predatory and that life consists of eating or being eaten (Nietzsche) and the ideal of kindness and the moderation of desire (Buddha, Jesus).
And so, the ending of the second story, which appears near the very end of the book, quotes Virgil.

The reference is to Aeneas, who, while gazing at a mural that depicts his fallen Trojan comrades, cries out — sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
(The world is a world of tears, and the burdens of mortality touch the heart.)

Jun 26, 2017

This makes a good summer epic novel because it begins and ends on the trade ship the Prophetess in the early 19th century, no matter the wind blows through six narrators and genres, past and future, with devious connection. The highly stylized English is a contagious tour de force. Mitchell "mem'ry(d)" the 2017 literary and geopolitical universe in 2004 in Cloud Atlas. For less puzzler, read The Bone Clocks.

May 22, 2017

I got it but it seemed the the author was pretty sure you wouldn't so parts of it felt forced.

Mar 26, 2017

I am quite awe-struck with these six novellas, interlinked and unfolding through time … and time again. Mitchell inspires my complete admiration for his ability to totally immerse each one in the language and style of the era and genre in which each is set. And in each story, regardless of how soul-searching or humorously hyperbolic, he has us reflect on the big questions of life. While it is reported that the characters from story to story are reincarnations from previous lifetimes, I found this was not as clearly communicated in the book as in the movie. Now I’d like to go back and read the book again.

Mar 08, 2017

This novel is not an easy read, and must've been difficult to write. Mitchell is using various genres going from one point to another with stories. The best one, by far, is the story of Sonmi. I think many would agree to this. The overall effect is disjointed, but not nearly as bad as the film. It has the potential to be great, but I think loses a lot of readers with its first story. I personally enjoyed it, but many non-literary people out there probably find this book annoying.

Dec 07, 2016

Mitchell has an amazing ability to sculpture his writing to create the moods and tones of different time eras. To go from different time periods and not only write each differently from one another yet maintain a consistent vision through out them all is staggering.

Aug 03, 2016

A "sextet for overlapping soloists," to use the author's words from later in the volume: an elegant counterpoint of six stories, six literary genres, six authorial voices, six narrative structures in chiastic form. A "matryoshka doll" of interlocking human histories. Well worth the reading.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 03, 2016 is difficult not to stand in awe at Mitchell's raw talent. Whether he's writing a journal as an eighteenth century notary aboard an ocean vessel, the letters of a priggish English composer, a suspenseful tale of corruption and the journalist who uncovers it, the vain musings of a publisher with a belief that he is akin to Randle Patrick McMurphy, the interview of a clone guilty for her rebellion against a capitalist totalitarian government, or the post-apocalyptic oral stories of adventure by a primitive tribesman, Mitchell writes perfectly. One minute Mitchell's writing mirrors Melville, the next Margaret Atwood or a more literate Tom Clancy, then Toni Morrison.

Mitchell's talent is clear, but what his aim was is not so transparent. The thread that connects these stories is often thin. Regardless, this makes them no less intriguing. Even the many stories that move slowly are entertaining in their own unique way.

Cloud Altas is the kind of novel that takes determination and patience, but it doesn't require complete understanding. Sometimes it's okay to just sit back and be mystified by it all.

Dec 16, 2015

Wow, people really like this book. I'll admit I didn't read it until after the movie came out, a movie I had no interest in (although who doesn't look non-Asian actors playing Asians?). Plenty of smarter folks than I am think this book is some kind of masterpiece. And it is virtuosic to be sure, with it's dazzling blend of styles and possibly interconnected plot lines, but is sure isn't much fun to read. I dare anybody to read the "Sloosha's Crossin' An' Ev'rythin' After" section out loud without snickering. Heck, just read that title. I don't get the fuss, but this is certainly hermetic post-modern wankery on the vastest, most self-indulgent scale.

Dec 06, 2015

Mitchell is a great storyteller, but his structure seemed somewhat contrived after the first half of the book. By then I was getting tired of it. It seemed a gimmick rather than a necessary tool to further the narrative.

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Aug 04, 2013

A convoluted mess that wanders along several threads. Found the one interesting thread and finished it across several chapters, then gave up on the book.

Luv2cNewThings Jul 12, 2013

The reader follows a group of different people through reincarnations - starting with Adam Ewing. It seems that regardless if a character lived a full life or not, his or her story goes on.

The reader also goes on a passage of time. He/she will reach the pinnacle of humanity, which falls and starts all over again for a lack of better terminology!

On a side note: It was interesting how David Mitchell structured the novel. Unfortunately, it simply did not keep my interest.

AnneDromeda Jan 07, 2013

David Mitchell’s *Cloud Atlas,* released in 2004, fits the definition of a sleeper hit. Ridiculously well reviewed, its unconventional composition threw many early readers. It took time for word of mouth to spread from those tenacious readers who made it far enough into the book to make sense of Mitchell’s ambitious project. Eventually, even Hollywood caught on, so those of you who’re interested in the premise but frustrated by the execution can go take it all in on the silver screen right now. You could. But I really think you should read the book first, and not just because I’m a librarian.<br />

*Cloud Atlas* is composed of six separate stories fit together like matroishka dolls. It begins with the epistolary narrative of a man at sea in the South Pacific in the 1860s, witnessing the last gasps of the slave trade and the messy, colonial birth of global capitalism and industrialism. The flowery writing perfectly suits a 19th-century adventure tale full of pirates, sailing, exploring and riches. However, just as the action begins to really pick up, the narrative ends mid-sentence.<br />

Another – seemingly unrelated – narrative begins. It follows the couch-surfing adventures of a brilliant composer named Robert Frobisher through 1930s Europe. Full of witty, Wildean dialogue, this narrative is more than entertaining enough to carry the reader through to Frobisher’s discovery of a book sharing the title of *Cloud Atlas*’s interrupted opening narrative in the South Pacific. <br />

Having just gotten readers comfortable, Mitchell again shifts focus; this time, we land in a 1970s-era spy thriller that references Frobisher. Why? No explanation’s given, and the narrative breaks again. Now we follow the head of a vanity publishing house through a comedy of errors leaving him imprisoned in a nursing home in our current time. Then we jump to the testimony of a human clone genetically optimized for food service, testifying her experience living in a hyper-commercialized dystopian version of future-Korea to a corporate archivist. Then we land in post-apocalyptic Hawai’i, where an elder tells his life story in orature. This narrative is the deepest in the layered intertextuality of *Cloud Atlas* – after hearing Zachary Bailey’s life story we move in reverse order back through the other half of the nesting narratives begun earlier in the novel.<br/ >

Technically composed of six well-crafted novellas interlaced in unexpected ways, the weighty consequence of each narrative relies on all the others to be fully realized. *Cloud Atlas* could alternatively have been titled Frankfurt School’s Instrumental Reason: The Novel, but those with no background in Continental philosophy will still find much to love here, if they take the time. *Cloud Atlas* is highly recommended to fans of Margaret Atwood, Ursula K Le Guin or any literary science fiction. It is also recommended to any readers of literary fiction who don’t mind some serious experimentation, and who love beautifully crafted language.


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Oct 03, 2018

My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?

Laura_X Jun 01, 2016

I lost my balance when the train pulled away, but a human crumple zone buffered my fall. We stayed like that, half fallen. Diagonal People.


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