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Cloud Atlas Group Read: Spoiler Thread Week Two

75 Books Challenge for 2011

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Jan 18, 2011, 8:04pm Top

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Jan 18, 2011, 8:06pm Top

I hope everyone is hanging in there and enjoying it. This will pick up about page 240. "Sloosha's Crossin'".

Jan 19, 2011, 9:46am Top

Thanks for the thread, Mark! I have it starred for when I catch up.

Jan 21, 2011, 1:16pm Top

I love this book and tell people about it all the time. To sell the book I draw a graph for people. I start at a point and then draw a line upwards. I level the line off for a space and then draw it going down the other side. You get a sort of flat topped mountain with this drawing. I think that is what Mitchell has done with this novel. He builds up with the stories and in the middle of the book there is a plateau. (Critics say that Mitchell "places a mirror" at the midpoint of the novel.) Then the reader starts to descend the other side. This technique is very very effective.

The style of this novel marks it as a post-modern novel. Rather than being linear, in that you read the story from beginning to end in a straight progression, this one is read, and composed, in a more circular fashion with no clear starting point or ending point.

Did anybody notice anything about the characters and how they are related?

Jan 21, 2011, 1:22pm Top

The definition for orison from the Oxford English Dictionary.

orison - 1. a. A prayer b. The action or practice of praying; prayer. Now rare. 2. A speech, oration.

Edited: Jan 21, 2011, 1:36pm Top

I listened to the BBC interview and in that interview Mitchell says that the title of the book Cloud Atlas is for the following reason. Clouds change. Atlases don't. The human being changes, the human condition doesn't. Mutability and immutability in the same title.

Jan 21, 2011, 7:16pm Top

Benita- Thanks for some great info! It is hard to put it together, until you finish it, in my opinion.
The "Orison" & Sloosha" segments were slow to get through but I think each one was rewarding, in their own unique way.
I absolutely loved how it starts back down with the stories.

Jan 22, 2011, 12:39am Top

Benita, I haven't had a chance yet to listen to the podcast, but I love his reasons for naming the book (and Frobisher's greatest composition) Cloud Atlas. Thanks for sharing that.

I too am loving the book so far, both for the language and the story. Some of the lines are so good I just have to reread them, almost turning them over in my mouth. I've got lots of questions and thoughts about the plot, and I can't wait to see where he goes with it. I'm almost through Shoosha's Crossing. I summed up my thoughts to date on Thread 1. Onward and downward! (At least on Benita's diagram *smile*)

Jan 22, 2011, 3:21pm Top

benita> Thanks for explaining the title, and your thoughts on the structure. Both makes sense, and yes I'm seeing tons of connections among the characters, that little birthmark being one of them, but am not quite willing to form my thoughts into words yet.

Someone was talking about the language in Somni's section as "too cutesy" in the last thread. That didn't bother me. I'd expect language to change, and changing "ex" to just "x" makes sense. Language usually simplifies.

His choice of language in "Sloosha's Crossing" though, blows me away. To me, it is clearly a hodge podge of dialects, but predominantly the Southern black dialect similar to what Twain used for Jim, or similar to what you hear when you're watching movies like "Gone With the Wind." Using that kind of dialect has fallen out of favor, at least in the US, and is seen as racist. That said though, the dialect isn't completely Southern black. He uses the term "sussed" which is a British term. The average American doesn't know that word unless they've watched a lot of BBC in syndication. His pidgen is culturally contradictory to me, and I feel like getting a red pen out and editing it. His islanders, to, are clearly not black. Meronym's people are dark compared to an islander. Is this deliberate? Here's a quote from Sonmi's section: However copocracy was emerging and social strata was demarked, based on dollars and, curiously, the amount of melanin in one's skin. So is this uncomfortable pidgen deliberate? I'm betting that 1. it is, and 2. he wants me to be uncomfortable.

Yikes! Who is this writer messing with my mind?

Jan 22, 2011, 5:48pm Top

The echoing of the Maori/Moriori subjugation with the Kona/Valleysmen one is interesting. Another parallel between the two stories is that in the diary, Hawaii was referred to by the islanders as heaven. Now in Shoosha's Crossing, we are in Hawaii, and Meronym says its one of the last pockets of humanity left, and one of the more civilized. In the Diary, the Moriori, Autua, escaped to a neighboring island via canoe. Now Zachary is escaping the Big Island of Hawaii for Maui by canoe.

And weren't some of the Pacific Islands settled by Hawaiians?

Edited: Jan 22, 2011, 5:56pm Top

Ah, I finally got to the payoff that Mark has promised. I loved that awesome comparison of clouds to souls. It comes at the end of the Sloosha "plateau." This transitional section had quite a few religious references in it. There's Sonmi, the god of the Valleysmen; Old Georgie, the devil; the belief in reincarnation; healing of Catkin after 3 days; references to Lazarus and Judas. These are the ones that jumped out at me. I'm reading this slowly and carefully, yet I still feel as if I'm missing bits and pieces that are important to what Mitchell is attempting to convey. That's why this discussion is so helpful.

Thank you, Benita, for your help in making this work more understandable. It is evident that you loved this book.

>9 cammykitty:: Katie, the language shifts didn't bother me either once I got used to the rhythm and vernacular. You had some interesting thoughts about the Southern black dialect in the Sloosha section. It immediately brought the slavery issue to mind when I read it. There is some sort of oppression going on in each of the disparate stories developing into outright slavery in the "Orison of Somni" and "Sloosha's Crossin'."

I'm ready to journey down the mountain now. I hope I become like Zachry in his descension with Meronym. He was very skeptical of her as they were going up the mountain but he learned to trust her completely on their way down. I'm going to put my trust in David Mitchell as we revisit the half-finished stories of the first part.

ETA: Thanks for pointing out those similarities, Lisa. As I said, I'm depending on this group to supply some of the missing links as we make sense of this gripping story.

Jan 22, 2011, 5:58pm Top

As for the title, Cloud Atlas, here are some quotes I found:

At the end of Sloosha's Crossing (p. 308)

I watched clouds awobbly from teh floor o' that kayak. Souls cross 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.

And in The Ghastly Ordeal (p. 373)

Three or four times only in my youth did I glimpse the Joyous Isles, before they were lost to fogs, depressions, cold fronts, ill winds, and contrary tides... I mistook them for adulthood. Assuming they were a fixed feature in my life's voyage, I neglected to record their latitude, their longitude, their approach. Young ruddy fool. What wouldn't I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds.

To me, the first quote seems to imply the atlas of clouds is the omniscient/God who knows where all souls are. In the second, it seems more like the cloud atlas is a map/way to happiness/eternity/heaven/Joyous Isles (Hawaii). These two things seem contradictory, one is the all-knowing and one is the tao.

Can't wait to see what he comes up with next!

Jan 23, 2011, 9:08am Top

Katie, Lisa & Donna- You all are making it this a wonderful Group Read. Coming up with some awesome comments and ideas.

In the "Sloosha" segment, I felt the language had reached the point, where it began de-evolving. Is that make sense? This segment was the most difficult to read, but also maybe the most rewarding. Fascinating stuff!

The Frobisher sections are probably my favorite, followed closely by the T. Cavendish ones. My least favorite, was the 2nd "Luisa Rey", a bit convoluted for me.

Love these nuggets:
"Dr. Upward was one of those Academy-Award winning Asses of Arrogance you find in educational administration, law, or medicine."

"Books don't offer real escape, but they can stop a mind from scratching itself raw."

Jan 23, 2011, 11:39am Top

I'm enjoying reading everyone's comments and all the great info. I read Cloud Atlas 5 years ago for my book club. Loved it. Will definitely re-read it one day when I have more time. I can't wait to see what you all think when you reach the end.

Jan 23, 2011, 11:56am Top

This book fascinated me so much that I did quite a bit of research on it. That made me wonder what kind of author was Mitchell? And why was I putting so much effort into a post-modern novel? I really want to read number9dream by Mitchell and have Black Swan Green on my list as well. Black Swan Green has some of the characters from cloud Atlas in it so I have to bump that one up on my ever growing list.

Jan 23, 2011, 5:00pm Top

I finished Cloud Atlas last night. Thanks again, Mark, for organizing this group read. I'm very glad I read it.

As for my thoughts, I'm still mulling things over, but here's where I am so far. Whereas the first half of the book seemed to me to be about civilization and language, the second half was about civilization and power. If language is the method of ascension for civilizations, then the corrupting nature of power would be its downfall.

Here's an interchange between Morty Dhondt and Frobischer (p. 444):

The reductio ad absurdum of M.D.'s view, I argued, was that science devises ever bloodier mean of war until humanity's powers of destruction overcome our powers of creation and our civilization drives itself to extinction. M.D. embraced my objection with mordant glee. "Precisely. Our will to power, our science, and those v. factulties that elevated us from apes, to savages, to modern man are the same faculties that'll snuff out Homo Sapiens before this century is out! You'll probably live to see it happen, you fortunate son. What a symphonic cresendo that'll be, eh?"

When speaking of the "superiority" of the White Man, Henry Goose says:

'Aha!' you will ask, yes, 'But why us Aryans? Why not the Unipeds of Ur or the Mandrakes of Mauritius?' Because, Preacher, of all the world's races, our love-or rather our rapacity-for treasure, gold, spices & dominion, oh, most of all, sweet dominion, is the keenest, the hungriest, the most unscrupulous! This rapacity, yes, powers our Progress; for ends infernal or divine I know not. Nor do you know, sir. Nor do I overly care. I feel only gratitude that my Maker cast me on the winning side.

Such thinking is why the Father Upward in Tahiti came up with his plan to introduce the natives to smoking: it would create a demand, "an incentive to earn money", and the money would be used to buy tobacco from the Mission trading post.

It's also what drives the corporacy of Sonmi's world. Without rapacity, consumerism, and greed, the entire system would collapse. Hence the threat posed by the Abbess and her little colony of content and self-sufficient agrarians.

In the last two pages of the book, Adam Ewing goes on and on about the evils of exploitation, violence, and the subjugation of races. Although I believe in these same tenets, I think the author goes over the top and the tone devolves into a preachiness that I found off-putting.

In these pages, Adam also decries the theory put forth by Preacher Horrox (p.487):

It is Progress that leads Humanity up the ladder towards the Godhead. No Jacob's ladder this, no, but rather 'Civilization's Ladder', if you will.

Adam says:

What of it if our consciences itch? Why undermine the dominance of our race, our gunships, our heritage & our legacy? Why fight the "natural" (oh, weaselly word!) order of things? ...Because... In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.

In Mitchell's world, that is where the world ends up, with a greedy corporate world that creates extinction. Yet the book ends with Adam vowing to be "one drop in a limitless ocean", which with a multitude of other drops, can effect change.

So, nice message, but delivered with a sledgehammer. I felt that the sublety (and beautiful language) of the first half of the book was absent in much of the second. I'm still very glad I read the book and will give it four stars in my review.

Edited: Jan 23, 2011, 10:06pm Top

msf59> Nice quotes. That one on books struck me too.

benita> I can see why you did some research on this. I keep seeing things like the statue of Saint Malthus. (I'm not sure it was the Saint part. Someone in college or high school taught me about Malthus, and also had the phrase "Malthus in, Malthus out" so I remembered he was a very cynical economist who felt that war was an inevitable part of the economy, man would continually grow beyond his resources, then fight wars because of it, then civilization would collapse and start again. I may be badly misrepresenting Malthus. It's been a long time, and I'm sure we spent less than a day on him. But if there are little pieces like this slipped in there, how many little pieces am I missing?

lab #16> I'm going to save your post for when I finish the book. :)

Jan 23, 2011, 10:06pm Top

I spent much of the afternoon reading this book. It's been a real ride thus far. I am liking it so much better than I did at the beginning now that I know where this incredible journey is heading. I'll probably go ahead and finish it tonight because I won't be able to sleep until I know how Mitchell wraps this up. Lisa, I am passing over your comments until I finish it and come to my own conclusions.

I wasn't going to mention this because I felt like I'd be stating the obvious, but after reading this quote on page 322..."meticulous brains will overlook the simple," I decided to go ahead. It's obvious that the "Orison of Sonmi - 451" gives a nod to Fahrenheit 451, but not having read Bradbury's famous book (*hanging head in shame*), can anyone shed any light on a connection between the two? Can't get much simpler than that.

It was good to lighten up with the "Timothy Cavendish" story line after the chilling reading about the reclamation process on The Golden Ark. I've read a few pages of "Half-Lives" and am taking a short break. I thought Mitchell was so clever to have Luisa go back in the submerged vehicle after the Sixsmith report in true pulp fiction style!

I can't speak for the sci-fi writing, but he does a great job with the other genres. While I first found this shift in writing styles jarring, now I find it makes me read more closely and for longer periods of time. I guess the different tone revives me! Speaking of which, I have over 100 pages to read so break time is over.

Jan 23, 2011, 10:17pm Top

Donna> Geez, speaking of things going over me. Fahrenheit 451. 451 is the temperature at which books burn. In Fahrenheit 451, the government controls people by destroying all books, so books become stored in individual people's memories. They basically become an oral tradition. Yes, a very deliberate clue as to what Mitchell is doing. And I missed it.

As for his science fiction writing, he is doing well. Cloud Atlas was nominated for several science fiction awards, which at first I found strange because on 2/3rds of the book are truly science fiction. Now that I'm nearly done with the book, I can see why it was nominated. The non-fantastical sections form a base for the science fiction sections. In a sense, they are showing part of the evolution of culture. The science fiction sections only show a possible way for our history to evolve. This is exactly the kind of thing science fiction writers do. They look at the past and the present, ask what if, then throw it into the future. They just don't let the reader see the ground work as Mitchell does.

Another favorite thing for science fiction to do is to discuss/describe something that is perhaps too close to home. For example, we're able to get some distance and think about how Somni's culture is ruled by corporations and consumerism, but if he were to write about how our modern culture is shaped by corporations and consumerism, many people wouldn't listen.

Jan 23, 2011, 10:49pm Top

#18 Boy, I sure missed that one! Thanks for pointing it out. I have a feeling that I missed far more than I got. It is definitely a book that would continue to improve with rereading.

I'm glad you are skipping my post for now. Don't want to inadvertantly give spoilers or "cloud" your own conclusions about the book. Can't wait to see what you all think!

Edited: Jan 24, 2011, 11:01am Top

I am going to confess that I missed the Sonmi - 451 connection with Fahrenheit 451 as well. Thanks for pointing that out. I also have to admit that I haven't read Fahrenheit 451 either. My book discussion group in real life is reading a classic for our March selection and we are going to vote on it at our February meeting. Our two choices are jane Eyre and Fahreneit 451, neither of which I have read. I did take Jane Eyre home with me over Christmas but didn't get to it. After reading all the comments here and thinking about Cloud Atlas for the last two weeks I am going to vote for Fahrenheit 451 simply because Cloud Atlas fascinated me so much when I first read it.

It is strange to me that the two nested stories I remembered the clearest and revisit from time-to-time are Sonmi's and Cavendish's, for two different reasons. I laughed until I cried in the Cavendish story and I cried the whole time I read Sonmi's. I think the story I liked the least was Adam Ewing's. I think it is because it ends up happy, so is unmemorable in a way compared to the other two. With the other two I keep wondering what society, or the character, could have done different to change things.

Did anybody get the connection with the characters and the birth mark? The answer is in the BBC interview with Mitchell. That was another thing I missed in this novel. The whole birthmark thing.

Jan 24, 2011, 2:54pm Top

I've noticed a lot of birthmarks, but haven't figured out what they mean yet. Yup, everyone seems to have that comet mark.

Jan 24, 2011, 8:07pm Top

>16 labfs39:: ...nice message, but delivered with a sledgehammer. Agreed, Lisa, but when I finished this late last night, I needed that extra reinforcement! I did like that glimmer of hope at the end. The recurring patterns of exploitation painted such a bleak picture of mankind. It actually reflects Mitchell's view of the world - at least on certain days. The BBC interview link that Benita posted on the previous thread was well worth listening to. He even talks about his own birthmark!

I've been thinking about the book all day and have decided not to write a formal review. Jhowells (Dr. Jen) has written my thoughts so well that I'll just say "ditto" to her review. I ended up doing a complete turnaround on my opinion of the book and gave it 4.5 stars.

I hope the conversation about Cloud Atlas continues. I'll be checking back here and may even post about the part that took me completely by surprise. I know this is a spoiler thread yet there are still people reading it and my epiphany would be quite a spoiler!

>22 cammykitty:: Katie, and others who have read the Sloosha part, did you notice that Meronym has the comet birthmark although she (and other Prescients) don't believe in the existence of souls. What irony.

Edited: Jan 25, 2011, 11:11pm Top


#16 labfs59> Now that I'm done reading Cloud Atlas, I went back and read your post. I agree. I was loving the book and willing to give it 5 stars until I hit the end of Ewing's section. It was lacking subtlety, to say the least. It felt like I'd read the whole book to find "what it all meant" explained to me in a few paragraphs. I know that was the style of writing you might find in an old faux sailor's journal, but it undercut the whole atmosphere of the novel IMHO.

I also had trouble with Frobisher's section. Other than Eva's comment that he was letting himself go, there was no indication that he might be the suicidal type. I don't buy that ending. The letters didn't support it. I could see him being a risk taker and coming to an odd early death. That would be difficult to pull off, seeing how his tale was told in letters, but Mitchell is clearly a gifted writer. He could've pulled it off.

Of course, the "one drop" speech could be taken cynically. After all, we've just seen the future and the one drop didn't do squat. But I read it as the moral of the story, which made the rest just one possible future.

Sad that the last two chapters did equal the earlier ones.

#23 Donna - yes, I noticed she had the birthmark, as did Somni, but I was reading it as a mark of ancestry rather than as a soul. That's a cool interpretation. Seeing how "soul" is used in Somni's community, I can see why Prescients no longer believe in it. Obviously, in Somni's community the concept of soul was altered to justify slavery.

Jan 26, 2011, 10:15am Top

I totally missed the birthmark thing the first time I read the book. I didn't pick up on it until I listened to Mitchell's interview on the BBC podcast. Mitchell says that the birthmark is important and lead me to believe that because each of the characters has it that they are reincarnations of the same person. Did anybody else get that, cause I sure didn't. And here the author says they are reincarnations.

Jan 26, 2011, 8:21pm Top

25 benita> I thought about that for awhile. I like the idea of the birthmark as being a sign of reincarnation, but frankly, the characters weren't similar enough for me to see them as reincarnations.

Jan 26, 2011, 8:32pm Top

In the BBC interview, Mitchell was pretty clear that he intended the birthmark to represent the reincarnation of the soul in its different stages. He also said something about "soul" being used as a verb and not a noun. I didn't quite get that part. Apparently he has a real interest in Buddhism that is reflected in this book.

Jan 27, 2011, 10:16am Top

#26-27 Which makes me think about the difference between what an author may intend, and what a reader takes away from, a book. Some believe that it is most important to try to interpret what an author intended. In this case, we have Mitchell's podcast and interviews to rely on, but older literature is almost always without such explicit notes. My opinion is that although author intent is important, it is only part of the picture. It is also important to consider the context of the book, it's social and historical milieu, because no author writes in a vaccuum, and may even be unaware of the biases or influences playing upon her/him. As Isaac Sachs writes He who pays the historian calls the tune. --Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (p. 392-393). Or what subconcious "intents" percolate their way into the book. Finally, I think there is validity to the reader's interpretation: even if it is not what the author intended. Books take on a life of their own and mean different things to different people at different times. I think that is as valid as what the author may have intended. No one knows how ones words will effect another, nor what meaning the words may garner once loosed. Perhaps I am being too much effected by our discussion of O'Brien's "story-truth" versus "happening truth" that we discussed in relation to The Things They Carried. Everything seems less concrete these days-especially the written word!

Jan 27, 2011, 1:15pm Top

>28 labfs39:: Everything you said makes perfect sense to me, Lisa. Exploring authors' intentions (conscious or subconscious), historical and social influences, and readers' interpretations are what makes these discussions worthwhile.

It is what we as readers take away from a book that makes it meaningful to us. The books where everyone agrees with the words as presented are pretty dull in my opinion. I love reading between the lines and coming up with my own thoughts, no matter how misguided they sometimes are. ;-)

I think Mitchell touched on this in his interview when he said something like...he writes to find out. My emphasis. This may not be an exact quote but I like the idea of it.

Jan 27, 2011, 5:07pm Top

AT one point in my reading life I thought I was "missing" things if I missed something in a book - like the birthmarks - and thought that somehow I was not reading on a sophisticated level. Now I think the same way you guys do. What I get out of a book isn't what others get out of it, and I don't think we should all take the same thing from a book.

I also wondered about the authors. Do they set out to write books with all that symbolism in them? Or do we, the readers, make things into symbols? In the case of Cloud Atlas, it seems that the author did put some kinds of symbolism in the story as he was writing it on purpose and he also said that he like to find out where the characters and the story takes him. Somehow this surprised me because it sort of makes me feel like, as a reader, I am being played. Don't get me wrong - I loved the ride on this one and think he did a brilliant job.

Jan 29, 2011, 8:41am Top

Wow! These comments, opinions and ideas are absolutely wonderful. You guys have made this Group Read my favorite to date. I thought Blindness worked very well too, but it has been surpassed.

I found this book quite circular. I can see the final Adam Ewing journal, nearly touching hands with Sloosha. Brilliant. I also like the running theme of enslavement, which I didn't catch right away. Each character being a slave to someone or something.

I saw mention that, some found the end of the 2nd Frobisher part heavy-handed and maybe it is, but I also found that the final pages contained some outstanding writing, probably my favorite of the book.
BTW- The Frobisher sections were my favorite.

Thanks to Benita for supplying the interview of Mitchell. It was excellent. What a smart, funny, unpretentious guy!

I plan on doing a Group Read of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet at some point. Maybe early summer. Remind me.

Jan 29, 2011, 9:35am Top

I'm finally winding down to the end of this amazing book. I had a lot of trouble at the beginning because it seemingly went nowhere. Too many beginings and I was getting frustrated. Someone (can't find it now) came up with a mental picture of the structure of this book - rising to a plateau and descending back down. (Was it Donna?) This gave me what I needed to make sense of it all.

I was also forced to consider what the author's intentions were in this book. Many times I don't do that - but this book is chock full of messages.

My natural indecision of what to read at any particular moment has stalled my completing this book -reading too many things at once and making slow progress in everything. :P For this book, I should have forsaken all others and gone from beginning to end w/o interruption to keep the connections intact.

I think I'll finish this today. Everyone's comments have been like wind in my sails! This is an incredible journey, huh?

Jan 29, 2011, 9:56am Top

>31 msf59:: I agree with you, Mark. This has been an excellent discussion. I ended up liking the circular pattern. Adam "nearly touching hands with Sloosha." Cool image.

Thanks again, Mark, for hosting another dynamic group read.

>32 -Cee-:: Claudia, I talked about ascending and descending the mountain, but I think it was Benita's structure that you are referring to. I relate to those visual images, too, and it helped me think of the book in a different light. I'm so glad you are enjoying it now. It is an incredible journey.

Jan 29, 2011, 10:06am Top

Claudia- I'm so glad I did just that. Focused on just this book, while reading it. Spreading it out over 2 or 3 weeks, would have been detrimental to me.
I'm so glad you ended up appreciating it and yes, it was an "incredible journey".

Donna- Having you on board was an absolute pleasure. You are smart and insightful and I hope you can join me on all my future Group Reads.

Jan 29, 2011, 10:23am Top

Ah, yes! Thanks Donna. It was Benita who gave me structure in message #4.

Thanks to you, Benita! It made all the difference to me and came right at the moment I needed it! :)

Jan 29, 2011, 11:20am Top

Ditto on the cool image linking Pacific Diary with Sloosha's. The rise and fall of civilizations, ending with a whimper, not a bang, and all that.

I'll add my thanks to the Group Read, Mark. I had never done one on LT before, and I really enjoyed it. I doubt I would have read the book, or gotten as much out of it, without it!

Jan 29, 2011, 11:11pm Top

I finished the book up earlier this evening. I think I liked it better the second time around than I did the first!

There is a phrase that Frobisher uses (in the second section) "a sextet of overlapping soloists . . . each in its own language of key, scale and color." I think that perfectly sums up this book.

Thanks, Mark, for setting this up so that I had the opportunity to re-read the book. It definitely makes my memorable reads list for this year!

Jan 30, 2011, 8:59pm Top

Finished! I agree with everybody!
There are so many great quotes in this book - they would fill a book of their own!
I love how this ends... re beliefs, actions and shaping the world for the future.
I wrote a review for this book - not because it needed one - but because I wanted to do something to highlight it as a favorite. Yup.... a 5 star favorite!

Don't think I would have finished it without ALL of the comments that helped me make sense of this book.
Special thanks to Mark for choosing another oddball book! :) LOL

Jan 30, 2011, 9:41pm Top

Hey, I'm just glad everyone seemed to like it. It wasn't always an easy read, but so worth it for those who persevered. Mark's Oddball Books!

Jan 31, 2011, 11:05am Top

The structure of this book is what makes it an outstanding book. I always thought of it a linear, but what Mark said about the Ewing touching hands with Sloosha makes me reconsider. Perhaps this book is more circular than I first thought? That makes sense in reading and in the writing.

I work with lots of pre-service teachers in my daily job, and in trying to explain to them why the "Magic School Bus" books are not good choices for read-alouds I have to talk to them about linearity of structure. The normal book has a beginning and an end. Like a line. The Magic School Buse books do not have a true beginning or end. You can start reading the book at any point and make that the beginning of the book. It is circular in structure. Cloud Atlas is probably more circular than I first envisioned it. The idea of the different sections touching hands fits perfectly with that structure.

I have to agree that the interview with Mitchell provided some really necessary links to the work for me. They explained much, and also pointed out how much I missed. I will be curious about reading Thousand Autumns, although Mitchell said that it is much more traditional than was Cloud Atlas.

Jan 31, 2011, 11:12am Top

I agree with everybody else in that this group read was very interesting. All of the comments from the different perspectives of the readers was enlightening and entertaining. Group Read of Blindness was good but this one might have been better than it. Thanks guys! Great read.

Feb 2, 2011, 2:30pm Top

I finally finished the book today, and I thought it was a terrific read. I have never read anything quite like it before. It was quirky, but also it was thoughtful. I loved looking for the interconnections between the stories. Thanks, Mark, for choosing a truly wonderful book. I was excited when I first heard about it, and I was not disappointed. :)

Feb 7, 2011, 6:30pm Top

Finished Cloud Atlas last week and pondered for a bit what to write. I enjoyed several of the segments (although I found the Luisa Rey sections the most fun), but was frankly disappointed by the ending of the Adam Ewing section (and, coincidentally, the novel). I missed the 451 reference until I read it here, but Somni's sections reminded me of Winston Smith's discussions of his life and his world with O'Brien. The film version of 1984 was on this weekend, and I just caught one of those scenes with John Hurt and Richard Burton. Incidentally, it is a very good film adaptation, filmed in London in 1984, and is Burton's last film.

In any event, Sloosha is the the circular ending in the middle of the book, and I found it to be the logical ending through the stories.

I have read If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Calvino so I wasn't thrown by the structure as much this time around. Mitchell is also far more blatant in his circulatory journey, so it got to be fun to count the sextets and references he employs.

Thanks for the nudge to read this, and for the uncanny notes from the group. They helped make this a read both easier and more enjoyable than it might have been.

Feb 7, 2011, 6:58pm Top

YAY! Laurie fiished Cloud Atlas!!!

*pats Laurie on the back!* :)

Feb 8, 2011, 11:24pm Top

43> In any event, Sloosha is the the circular ending in the middle of the book, and I found it to be the logical ending through the stories.

Interesting thought. It wouldn't have worked for me to move the stories into any other order than what they were in, but you sort of hit what didn't work for me. The final Ewing section had several elements that tied back to the Sloosha's Crossing piece, but at the same time it felt like the naive statement of a single individual crushed by time. I would've almost hoped for some final reference that threw the reader back into the future.

Edited: Feb 19, 2011, 11:03pm Top

I just finished the book and your comments. Thank you, group! Yet another reason to love LT!
ETA a few random thoughts about time +.
It's certainly not linear, and I'd even say that it spirals around the central story rather than simply circles. Then the experience of reading the book is that time doesn't really matter. It doesn't hurt the reader at all to cycle away from one story and then return later, so chronology isn't in the picture. Then I was thinking about the birthmark in the form of the comet that almost has to be Halley's Comet that returns again and again..... I also like the fact that what links character to character is artistic: Frobisher enjoys Ewing's diary and Frobisher's music attracts Luisa Rey whose story Cavindish finally edits, whose story Sonmi is eager to watch in the rest of the movie, and finally a memory of her is what Zachry worships.
And (I said that this was random) I think that scifi writers use deterioration of language as a shorthand in post-apocalyptic dystopias. I got very tired of the language in *Sloosha,* but it sounded more like my high school kids' idea of ghetto-speak than any actual southern dialect that I'm familiar with. I don't draw any conclusions from this mish-mosh, but this is what your comments have triggered in me in the past couple of hours for what it's worth.

Feb 20, 2011, 12:03am Top

I agree on the comments about the language in Sloosha. It was drawing on slang from too many regions, but he was using it to say, look, these people have lost their education level.

Feb 20, 2011, 10:59am Top

>46 LizzieD:: I also like the fact that what links character to character is artistic:

I like that angle, too, Peggy. I wish I'd thought of it myself. This book is definitely going on my reread stack. I'm afraid I missed many of these associations that make perfect sense in retrospect.

Feb 20, 2011, 11:33am Top

Hey, the conversation continues! That's great!

Donna- I agree! This book SHOUTS re-read!

Feb 20, 2011, 11:45am Top

I finally listened to the BBC podcast of an interview with David Mitchell. Very interesting. He says he loves it when readers interpret his works beyond what he consciously intended. Not sure where that line is between what he intends and what we see, because we see a whole lot!

He has a birthmark on his knee. :-)

I like the artistic connection, it puts a different spin on the linked idea of a progression of forms and size of audience that we talked about above.

In the podcast, the question was put to the author about the Sloosha language. He said he started by adding as many contractions as possible then throwing in several language patterns, including Hawaiian.

I'm glad the discussion is continuing because I am still actively thinking about CA a month after finishing it.

Feb 20, 2011, 1:39pm Top

Me, too...still thinking about it that is. And I keep recommending it left and right!

Feb 20, 2011, 6:58pm Top

Now that you mention it, the position of the birthmark drove me nuts. I was wondering whether I simply didn't know anatomy - I mean, where is skin between the collarbone in front and shoulder blade in back? Then somebody, TC maybe? or Frobisher, located it in his armpit or thereabouts. Strange. Wonder what that was about.

Edited: Feb 20, 2011, 7:10pm Top

I think about this book from time-to-time and I read it years ago. I have also reread parts of it again. I think it is a really powerful book and I have it in the same league as Blindness by Saramago. This is just a great book with so many ideas floating around in it, not to mention all the structural questions and mechanizations. It is just brilliant writing.

That BBC interview really helped me to understand some things about the book. It also opened other doors and that lead to other questions I had, but that is what a great book does for the reader.

Feb 21, 2011, 12:39pm Top

#52 Evidently we are not the only ones wondering where this birthmark is. Perhaps, like a comet, it wanders! :-) In the podcast interview, Mitchell is asked this exact question, and he rather waffles saying near the collarbone. Perhaps he just forgot where he put it?

Feb 21, 2011, 1:04pm Top

LOL! Collarbone. Armpit. Left breast. It was somewhere on the body ya know.

Feb 23, 2011, 10:58pm Top

Fascinating book, a work of very intricate and careful construction.

I've enjoyed and learned from all comments here. I don't have the time to listen to the Mitchell podcast right now, but I will soon--I favorited the whole site because I'll probably listen to several others. Thanks very much for the link to those.

I thought it was clear (but you see, I'm a simple reader) that we started with Polynesian Islands, a natural sort of paradise with simple people living in more or less harmony with nature, in the Ewing section being despoiled and the people being destroyed, then moved later to Hawaii being a false reward (can you imagine the cruelty of that whole scenario?) in the Orison sections, then in the central part, the Sloosha part, we're back more or less to ground zero--Hawaiian Islands being the last of the inhabitable places on earth, and now being pillaged and ravaged by the Kona, and thus the whole sad nasty cycle starts again. So I saw that area as a sort of metaphor for Eden, destroyed by the sin of man's greed and lust for power. I may not be expressing this clearly; I'm a bit tired.

I thought the Sloosha language was a result of different cultural remnants mixing together and creating a language of their own, using parts of many languages.

A moving, sad, frightening work, and a pretty amazing achievement.

Feb 24, 2011, 2:56pm Top

bohemima> You were making yourself perfectly clear. I like the Eden image as a way to approach the book. It wasn't what I was doing, but it fits and adds another level to it.

Feb 24, 2011, 3:42pm Top

>57 cammykitty:: Thanks. What seems clear to me sometimes isn't at all clear to others. There were lots of layers of meaning to the book, I think, with room for plenty of different interpretations. I liked how the group here presented so much food for thought and expanded my understanding both of what Mitchell was trying to do, and of how readers add to one another's ideas.

Feb 24, 2011, 5:27pm Top

I'm glad we're still keeping this thread alive. I like your paradise-gone-bad explanation, Gail. I think all these different dimensions to the book are what make it so fascinating to think about and discuss.

Feb 24, 2011, 5:35pm Top

Agreed! With thanks!!

Feb 24, 2011, 9:28pm Top

Eden... hmm... would that mean that Sonmi-451 was like Eve? Striving for knowledge and the language to express it? But getting expelled from the world and looking for the new Eden? *brain rolls over*

Feb 26, 2011, 10:25pm Top

Whee hoo.....I finally finished this amazing book tonite. I had read the first 6 chapters before I left on vacation the end of January, and didn't get to the 2nd half of the book until a few days ago. It was interesting to see how much I could remember, but I found myself having to go back to pick up the trail.

In fact, I think it would be a really fun re-read to read it the way Mitchell orginially wrote it, as 6 novellas, reading the two chapters together for each of the stories.

Either way, it was an incredible read that leaves me speechless --you comments above have helped a lot to entice and encourage me to finish. Although i really had trouble starting it, once I got "up to the plateau" I had no trouble finishing it.

I admit there is a lot I didn't understand, but I can still appreciate the greatness of the writing.

I read this on my NOOK, and (this is important) listened to the incredibly well-done audio book by Books on Tape. They had a multi membered cast reading these. The cadences and the inflections really really added to my understanding and my ability to immerse myself in the story.

Mark....thanks so much for hosting, and everyone, thanks for your erudite comments and encouragement.

Feb 27, 2011, 8:36am Top

Tina- I'm so glad you came back to it and ended up loving it. It's funny, I'm still thinking about it. Thanks for the heads-up on the audio version. I just might try it, sometime in the future.
Keep in mind, I plan on doing a Group Read of The Thousand Autumns, sometime early summer.

Feb 27, 2011, 4:27pm Top

I think I want to clarify about the the audio/e-book experience. I found that listening to the audio WHILE I was reading it was what finally broke the damn and produced the AHA moment. It was particularly strong during the Hawaiian chapters....we lived in Hawaii for a couple years, and had many hawaiian friends. The dialect and inflections haven't changed, and it was fun to listen to it spoken again.

I'd love to join the Jacob de Zoet group....I've already read it, but would be interested in seeing what others think.

Feb 28, 2011, 1:09pm Top

I used to read Shakespeare while simultaneously listening to a recording. It was so helpful. I bet the Sloosha chapter was much easier to understand with the audio doing the dialect. Did you notice a distinct difference in the "ascension" of language when hearing it?

I will definitely be looking for the Thousand Autumns read. Thanks for organizing, Mark! You are the host with the most.

Mar 1, 2011, 1:04am Top

Yes Lisa, the Sloosha chapter, and the two orisons of Somni were definitely enhanced by the dual listen/read format. I did notice the language becoming more accessible to my brain, but I'm not sure if that's what you mean by 'ascension' of language. Like I said, I feel like this really needs a graduate level seminar to be able to get everything out of it.

Mar 2, 2011, 11:40am Top

Sorry, I was refering to some posts we had in the first Cloud Atlas thread. Starting about #41.

Mar 2, 2011, 2:27pm Top

AHHHHHHHHHHHH....let there be light!

Mar 2, 2011, 8:47pm Top

Wow, this Group Read keeps on ticking...I love it!

Edited: Feb 4, 2013, 12:43am Top

OK, I know this thread is long-dead, but I had a thought to share... I literally just finished the book about 10 minutes ago. There are still a lot of threads dangling in my head regarding how all the different sections are connected, but there was one that seemed pretty direct (and in fact it was the first hint I noticed at some connection between all the characters).

I think all the characters with the birthmark are intended to be the same "soul" reincarnated, and each one of those characters is "saved" by another soul, presumably the same one each time, from an external evil. I think in a small way, the book tells a continuing love story between two souls, and each time period displays them in a variety of stages of their interactions.
Each one of the people with a birthmark has some sort of "awakening" where they realize the true nature of their environment, usually with the help of one other person. Whether or not the "saving" works out is different each time..

There will be some blanks below - if anyone wants to fill in, be my guest...

birthmark - can't remember, presumably Adam Ewing?
savior - Autua
antagonist - Dr Goose

birthmark - Frobisher
savior - Eva?
antagonist - Ayrs pomposity, or Frobisher's own drive for self-destruction

birthmark - Luisa Ray
savior - Joe Napier
antagonist - greed in general, personified by Bill Smoke

birthmark - Timothy Cavendish
savior - Ernie
antagonist - employees of the rest home

birthmark - Somni-451
savior - not sure, possibly Chang more than anone
antagonist - faceless corporocracy

birthmark - Zachry
savior - Maronym
antagonist - the culmination of all the "human nature" in the book, which has finally led to civilization's complete downfall

edit: I am aware that not all of the sections explicitly mention the birthmark - in some cases I'm extrapolating

I know there are some inconsistencies in here (as I said, I JUST finished and I still want to re-scan some sections) but I figured someone would find it interesting!

Feb 4, 2013, 10:40am Top

Thanks for that! I find it very interesting. I got stalled halfway through the book and have been looking for a nudge to get started again. Your post may have just been that nudge! I'll be looking for what you pointed out as I finish it up.

Apr 3, 2014, 6:27am Top

Love that. Such a well thought out and appropriate title then.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2011

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