Cloud Atlas

Wow. That’s the word I have for this book, just Wow.

For a little background, I picked this book up quite awhile ago, probably at my favorite San Francisco bookstore, Green Apple Books. Green Apple is one of those independent bookstores where the smart and savvy employees write little comments on a note card, tempting you to make purchases you might not have otherwise made. Thus it was with me, and I made the purchase, brought the book home, put it in my TBR pile, and promptly forgot about it. Months later, I picked it up, and started in. Chapter one was kind of boring, and I gave up and picked up something a bit more lively.

Thank goodness, then, for the Chunkster Challenge, which sent me searching my bookshelves for books of 400+ pages that I hadn’t yet read. I picked East of Eden, Half of a Yellow Sun, and Cloud Atlas. I’m SO glad, because all three books have been remarkable. And in such different ways. In fact, Cloud Atlas is different than any other book I ‘ve ever read. The book is composed of 6 stories, told by 6 different characters. The stories are nested, so that the narrator of the first chapter is the same as the last chapter, the second is the same narrator as the penultimate chapter, etc., with only the chapter in the middle of the book being one story instead of divided into two. What was fascinating to me, though, was that the chapters are not only told in different times and by different characters, they were all different genres.

The first (and final) chapters are The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing. This journal is circa 1850, and the author is a young man traveling from the Chatham Islands home to San Francisco. He is a very religious man, and the story has to do with his adventures along the way.

Next is Letters from Zedelghem, told in the form of letters from a young composer during his stay in Belgium in 1931. The letters are to his friend and lover, Richard Sixmith.

Next is Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery, which is the tale of an idealistic young reporter named Luisa Rey and her fight to uncover corruption at a local Nuclear Reactor in the 1970s.

Next is The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, a very funny story of a low level publisher who inadvertently hits paydirt with one of his authors, and subsequently finds himself locked up in a mental institution.

Then we come to An Orison of Sonmi~451, which is told in the form of an interview, and points to a dystopian future ala Philip K Dick or perhaps Margaret Atwood. Sonmi 451 is the name of the clone who is being interviewed, and her chilling tale of her fight against the corpocracy. The vision of the moon being used as a billboard for big business was a chilling one, that I hope no one at coca cola or pepsi gets ahold of.

Lastly, Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After, a post apocalyptic tale told by Zachary, a tribesman trying to retain some degree of civilization after the ‘fall’, in which most of humanity dies. This is the only story told all in one chapter, and it is nested between the two halves of Sonmi~451, which is nested between the two halves of Timothy Cavendish, and so on.

The stories are all interconnected, though some more so than others, and there is the undercurrent of reincarnation as well. I wondered if perhaps the reason the first chapter seemed somewhat boring to me is that I’m not a big fan of Melvillian high seas lit. Then again, I’ve never read any Melville (maybe the next classics challenge?), so I don’t know. I do know that by the end of the book, the last chapter, also told in the same voice and genre, wasn’t boring at all.

The themes that occur and reoccur in each story are timeless and universal. Power struggles between the strong and the weak. Slavery and imprisonment. Racism and prejudices. Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone, but for some strange reason, I think it might especially be enjoyed by Jefito, Py Korry (who can read my copy πŸ˜‰ ), Maya’s Granny, and Ms. Mamma. Jefito and Py Korry because of the futuristic chapters, which I think would appeal to them. Maya’s Granny because I think she would enjoy how cleverly (sometimes perhaps too cleverly) the stories connect and weave, and she knows all of these genres well enough to enjoy that as well. Ms. Mamma because, well, I think she’d just love it. That’s a stretch, since I don’t know her in person, but there it is.

9 thoughts on “Cloud Atlas

  1. Definately a fascinating book! I’m glad you decided to pick it up again. Great review. It’s going on my very looooong ist of TBR.

  2. That does sounds like an interesting book. One would think that it would be really uneven because of the way the book is structured, but it seems it’s really well thought out. Maybe when I finally finish the books I’m reading now, I’ll be able to read this one!

  3. Interesting way of constructing the chapters. It does sound like a good read. I might just get off my lazy butt and check it out. πŸ™‚

  4. Well, I do have it on my shelf, so I obviously plan to read it. It was recommended by Jon Carroll, who knows the young(er than him) writer, as I remember.

  5. I just realized that I didn’t find this book at Green Apple…I found it online, looking at recommendations at They have the same idea, employee’s choose their ‘picks’ for good reads, and if you think it looks interesting, you buy it. This book was on several of the lists, so I got it. πŸ™‚

  6. Very Interesting.
    I always like to go to those bookstores where the employees read the books and give little comments on note cards, you find really nice books that way..

  7. Sounds like a neat book, J.

    I had to drop in and thank you for popping in at MY place; hope the Summer’s Hidden Challenge contest brings you neat books and prizes. Oh, the prizes! (I am rather upset that I can’t win the prizes. However, I have more than enough here to read, and then some. I just like winning things.)

  8. I LOVED this book too – Mitchell is sheer genius. Cloud Atlas was the second novel of his that I read…the first was Black Swan Green which is equally wonderful, although a very different style of book. Glad you enjoyed this book so much πŸ™‚

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