Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

 

Science FictionGeneral Fiction

Cloud Atlas by David MitchellCloud AtlasDavid Mitchell; Random House Trade Paperbacks 2004WorldCatSix stories that start around 1850 and go into the distant apocalyptic future. Diaries, letters, mysteries, self-narratives, question and answer, and oral story telling are used in each of the six tales that loosely link together. Each starts, then stops abruptly. When the sixth one is finished, the other five then come back and are tied up and together. David Mitchell has written Cloud Atlas in a new narrative format (for me, anyway). And I never quite “got it”.

Each story has its own interest – from Adam Ewing on a boat crossing the South Pacific to aspiring musician Robert Frobisher assisting an older musician in Belgium who is ill but still can write wonderful music to Luisa Rey, a journalist investigating a nuclear power plant in Southern California to vanity publisher Timothy Cavendish escaping from some thugs to find himself in a nursing home to Sonmi~451, an Asian food services employee who becomes much more than was meant for someone in her station to Zachry, a native of an island in the South Pacific, telling the story of the end of the world from his perspective.

There are philosophical themes throughout – but mostly it is the story of greedier or craftier people enslaving or eliminating others. Mitchell includes suicides, rape, homosexuality, torture, contract murder, stupidity, and slavery as well as compassion, love, the fight for justice, martyrdom for a cause, and sense of family in Cloud Atlas. The stories link in unusual ways.

As for me, I was able to follow all the stories but never quite knew what Mitchell was trying to say. Slavery is bad – got it. Greed is bad – got it. Torture is bad – got it. Programming people to stay in their class is bad – got it. I found Cloud Atlas readable and some of the stories interesting. I found you’ll laugh at Timothy Cavendish as he tries to escape from the nursing home and bite your nails when Luisa Rey is hunted by a killer. Cloud Atlas was short-listed for the Booker Prize when it was published. The writing is readable and at times enjoyable. Other reviewers found it fascinating and deep literature. Me? I found it too dense to figure out what Mitchell really wants us to learn.

Notice:  Graphic violence, Strong sexual content, Strong language

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