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Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas (original 2004; edition 2005)

by David Mitchell

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10,199None280 (4.15)4 / 928
Title:Cloud Atlas
Authors:David Mitchell
Info:Hodder & Stoughton Audio Books (2005), Audio CD
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:historical fiction, sf, reincarnation, short stories, slavery, rebellion

Work details

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004)

  1. 90
    If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (Ludi_Ling)
    Ludi_Ling: Different yet both well-written approaches to meta-fiction.
  2. 82
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (pgmcc)
    pgmcc: Really enjoyable set of related stories with the author's well deomonstrated skill
  3. 94
    Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (sturlington)
  4. 61
    The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (one-horse.library, PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: A theme of reincarnation used to balance Karma flows through the story.
  5. 51
    Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban (Rynooo, browner56, pfeldman)
    browner56: Highly imaginative works, particularly the phonetic recreations of the English language
  6. 40
    Number9Dream by David Mitchell (PghDragonMan)
  7. 52
    A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (sturlington)
  8. 64
    A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (jbvm, souloftherose)
    jbvm: Without giving anything away, after you've read both you'll understand my recommendation.
    souloftherose: Both novels are occasionally experimental in style with interconnected short stories. They are also both very good.
  9. 31
    Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (novelcommentary)
  10. 20
    Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (PghDragonMan)
  11. 10
    Girl Reading by Katie Ward (rarm)
    rarm: Girl Reading isn't as intricately constructed as Cloud Atlas, but both books use linked stories to carry a theme through the centuries and into the future.
  12. 10
    The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino (Ludi_Ling)
    Ludi_Ling: For those interested in disparate yet intertwining narratives of a somewhat fantastical nature.
  13. 10
    Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru (Tinwara)
  14. 00
    TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (suniru)
  15. 00
    A History of the World in 10½ Chapters by Julian Barnes (suniru)
  16. 00
    The Islanders by Christopher Priest (tetrachromat)
  17. 11
    Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison (hippietrail)
  18. 00
    Flesh and Blood by Michèle Roberts (luciente)
    luciente: Similar structure of nested stories
  19. 00
    Mobius Dick by Andrew Crumey (alzo)
  20. 01
    The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco (hippietrail)

(see all 21 recommendations)


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English (390)  Dutch (4)  Finnish (1)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  Czech (1)  All languages (399)
Showing 1-5 of 390 (next | show all)
magnificent use of styles, language, and themes!!!! lost myself entirely in it ( )
  smccrory | Apr 4, 2014 |
magnificent use of styles, language, and themes!!!! lost myself entirely in it ( )
  smccrory | Apr 4, 2014 |
I've always found the theme of reincarnation fascinating, and thought this was executed excellently here, by threading six short stories with objects and ideas (e.g. documents, a movie, and custom beliefs) that passed throughout one soul's different lives. What resulted is one articulate, daring, and innovative novel. Each 'life' would also be highly engaging stand-alone short stories, but it's the weaving of these to make a whole that makes this quite the masterpiece. Each story offers different settings, moods, and characters which allows the author to incorporate multiple genres (which include historical, drama, sci-fi, and comedy) in a single novel - and Mitchell does this successfully. In this way, I think the author has cleverly catered for more than one type of audience, which is always a bonus for any career that relies on an audience or target market to survive. My favourite life was the story, 'An Orison of Sonmi-451' followed by the hilarious 'The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish'. Being a new reader of David Mitchell, I now look forward to reading more of this books. Great work. ( )
  Ria_Vao | Apr 3, 2014 |
Where do I begin to tell of my unfortunate adventure with this book?

First, it is VERY dry. The language is anything but beautiful. I couldn't imagine much of what I was reading. the book didn't create a world of its own in my mind or heart, I was just reading one empty line after another. I thought it was pumped up. the writer is trying to show that he can write old English. I have read some old classics, they weren't this dry or incomprehensible! The book was sooooooo slow! I didn't find it amusing, and I was terribly disappointed. I was very enthusiastic opening the book, I wanted to love it, and to watch the movie later. Well, that didn't happen.

I was appalled by the racism in the first part. Using words such as 'savages' and 'dog-master', among other degrading words against natives, was just not 'hype' , dear Mitchell. Maybe you wanted to portray that time - whatever when it was, you didn't say!- with the mentalities of that time, but it was repulsive to me.

I couldn't keep reading beyond the first 100 pages of this endless 500 pages book. Enough is enough. This is becoming a 'modern classic' because it is hard work to get from one page to the next. I quit reading it, it was never getting any better. And, no, it isn't Haruki Murakami-like, like they said on the back of the book!!

It is extremely overrated. I shall gift my copy to someone I really hate with an innocent look on my face, and so much spite in my heart :) I gift that same person Virginia Woolf's 'To The Lighthouse' and they drop dead, I tell you :)

I won't read another Mitchell E.V.E.R. !!! ( )
  pathogenik | Mar 2, 2014 |
It’s not hyperbole to say that this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’m so grateful for having gotten a recommendation to read it.

Cloud Atlas has six stories, spaced in time from the 19th century to the future, all told in very different “voices” appropriate to the time period, and with a link between them that is revealed in subtle ways. Several of these are stunning, and all of them are interesting. My favorites were “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing”, which channeled Melville in such a perfect way, “Letters From Zedelghem”, which was witty and reminiscent of Wilde, and “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish”, which was hilarious. “An Orison of Sonmi-451” is a little tough in the first half, but I loved the second half, and it reminded me of Huxley. And that presages my advice on reading the book: if you have problems with the language which, while written for the appropriate time period and in beautiful ways from my perspective, can be hard to get through at times, press on and be patient – it’s well worth it.

There are hints of reincarnation in the book, but to me the more meaningful aspect is the common link of humanity, and the need for good to stand up and combat evil, which will unfortunately always exist. Everything about the book works, including Mitchell’s breaking of the first five books into two parts, and then revisiting them in reverse order after the sixth. The ending comes as a crescendo that left me with goosebumps. Mitchell delivers a profound message in such a beautiful way; for anyone who has ever wished they could write a novel, this is the novel they wish they could have written.

Quotes (for those of you who’ve read the book, see if you can recognize the sub-story they come from):
On art:
“How vulgar, this hankering after immortality, how vain, how false. Composers are merely scribblers of cave paintings. One writes music because winter is eternal and because, if one didn’t, the wolves and blizzards would be at one’s throat all the sooner.”

On the class struggle:
“What if the differences between social strata stem not from genomics or inherent xcellence or even dollars, but merely differences in knowledge? Would this not mean the whole Pyramid is built on shifting sands?”

On the ‘Cloud Atlas’:
“I watched clouds awobbly from the floor o’ that kayak. Souls cross ages 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 Somni the east an’ the west an’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’ the clouds.”

“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.”

On death, and the importance of having lived life:
“…now I’m a spent firework, but at least I’ve been a firework.”

On decisiveness, quoting David Lloyd George:
“’I wonder if you encountered this dictum first spoken by a twentieth century statesman: ‘An abyss cannot be crossed in two steps.’”

On the decline of culture:
“Literary London at play put me in mind of Gibbon on the Age of the Antonines. ‘A cloud of critics, of compilers, of commentators, darkened the face of learning, and the decline of genius was soon followed by the corruption of taste.”

On freedom:
“’Freedom!’ is the fatuous jingle of our civilization, but only those deprived of it have the barest inkling re: what the stuff actually is.”

On love:
“The glances musicians exchange, when music is effortless, that was what he wanted from Milly, that intimacy.”

And this, one of my favorite passages:
“Eva. Because her name is synonymous for temptation: what treads nearer to the core of man? Because her soul swims in her eyes. Because I dream of creeping through the velvet folds to her room, where I let myself in, hum her a tune so – so - so softly, she stands with her naked feet on mine, her ear to my heart, and we waltz like string puppets. After that kiss, she says, ‘Vous embrassez comme un poisson rouge!’ and in moonlit mirrors we fall in love with our youth and beauty. Because all my life, sophisticated idiotic women have taken it upon themselves to understand me, to cure me, but Eva knows I’m terra incognita and explores me unhurriedly, like you did. Because she’s lean as a boy. Because her scent is almonds, meadow grass. Because if I smile at her ambition to be an Egyptologist, she kicks my shin under the table. Because even when serious she shines. Because she prefers travelogues to Sir Walter Scott, prefers Billy Mayerl to Mozart, and couldn’t tell C major from a sergeant major. Because I, only I, see her smile a fraction before it reaches her face. Because Emperor Robert is not a good man – his best part is commandeered by his unperformed music – but she gives me that rarest smile, anyway. Because we listened to nightjars. Because her laughter spurts through a blowhole in the top of her head and sprays all over the morning. Because a man like me has no business with this substance ‘beauty,’ yet here she is, in these soundproofed chambers of my heart.”

On man’s inhumanity, quoting Solzhenitsyn:
“Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty.”

“Another war is always coming, Robert. They are never properly extinguished. What sparks wars? The will to power, the backbone of human nature. The threat of violence, the fear of violence, or actual violence is the instrument of this dreadful will. You can see the will to power in bedrooms, kitchens, factories, unions, and the borders of states. Listen to this and remember it. The nation-state is merely human nature inflated to monstrous proportions.”

On joy, quoting Salinger:
“The most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy is a liquid.”

On New York, quoting John F. Kennedy:
“Most cities are nouns, but New York is a verb.”

On old age:
“Oh, aging is ruddy unbearable! The I’s we were yearn to breathe the world’s air again, but can they ever break out from these calcified cocoons? Oh, can they hell.”

“’We – by whom I mean anyone over sixty – commit two offenses just by existing. One is Lack of Velocity. We drive too slowly, walk too slowly, talk too slowly. The world will do business with dictators, perverts, and drug barons of all stripes, but being slowed down it cannot abide. Our second offence is being Everyman’s memento mori. The world can only get comfy in shiny-eyed denial if we are out of sight.”

“Middle age is flown, but it is attitude, not years, that condemns one to the ranks of the Undead, or else proffers salvation. In the domain of the young there dwells many an Undead soul. They rush about so, their inner putrefaction is concealed for a few decades, that is all.”

On old letters:
“She removes one of the yellowed envelopes, postmarked October 10, 1931, holds it against her nose, and inhales. Are molecules of Zedelghem Chateau, of Robert Frobisher, dormant in this paper for forty-four years, now swirling in my lungs, in my blood?
Who is to say?”

On old movies:
“Certainly: the vacant disneyarium was a haunting frame for those lost, rainy landscapes. Giants strode the screen, lit by sunlite captured thru a lens when your grandfather’s grandfather, Archivist, was kicking in his natural womb. Time is the speed at which the past decays, but disneys enable a brief resurrection. Those since fallen buildings, those long-eroded faces: Your present, not we, is the true illusion, they seem to say. For fifty minutes, for the first time since my ascension, I forgot myself, utterly, ineluctably.”

On power, quoting Seneca, speaking to Nero:
“No matter how many of us you kill, you will never kill your successor.”

On sex:
“…I mem’ry that dark Kolekole girl with her tribe’s tattoo, yay, she was a saplin’ bendin’ an’ I was that hurrycane, I blowed her she bent, I blowed harder she bent harder an’ closer, then I was Crow’s wings beatin’ an’ she was the flames lickin’ an’ when the Kolekole saplin’ wrapped her willowy fingers around my neck, her eyes was quartzin’ and she murmed in my ear, Yay, I will, again, an’ yay, we will, again.

On suicide:
“The lovelorn, the cry-for-helpers, all mawkish tragedians who give suicide a bad name are the idiots who rush it, like amateur conductors. A true suicide is a paced, disciplined certainty. People pontificate, ‘Suicide is selfishness.’ Career churchman like Pater go a step further and call it a cowardly assault on the living. Oafs argue this specious line for varying reasons to evade fingers of blame, to impress one’s audience with one’s mental fiber, to vent anger, or just because one lacks the necessary stuffing to sympathize. Cowardice is nothing to do with it – suicide takes considerable courage. Japanese have the right idea. No, what’s selfish is to demand another to endure an intolerable existence, just to spare families, friends, and enemies a bit of soul-searching.”

On being a woman in the workplace:
“’My first week on the job, I’m up in the canteen, fixing myself a coffee. This engineer comes up, tells me he’s got a problem of a mechanical nature, and asks if I can help. His buddies are sniggering in the background. I say, ‘I doubt it.’ The guy says, ‘Sure you can help.’ He wants me to oil his bolt and relieve the excess pressure on his nuts.’
‘This engineer was how old? Thirteen?’
‘Forty, married, two kids. So his buddies are snorting with laughter now. What would you do? Dash off some witty put-down line, let ‘em know you’re riled? Slap him get labeled hysterical? Besides, creeps like that enjoy being slapped. Do nothing? So any man on site can say shit like that to you with impunity?’
‘An official complaint?’
‘Prove that women run to senior men when the going gets tough?’
‘So what did you do?’
‘Had him transferred to our Kansas plant. Middle of nowhere, middle of January. I pity his wife, but she married him. Word gets around. I get dubbed Mr. Li. A real woman wouldn’t have treated the poor guy so cruelly, no a real woman would have taken his joke as a compliment.’”

Lastly, on the eternal struggle, and fighting the good fight:
“What precipitates outcomes? Vicious acts & virtuous acts.
What precipitates acts? Belief.
Belief is both prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind’s mirror, the world. If we believe humanity is a ladder of tribes, a colosseum of confrontation, exploitation & bestiality, such a humanity is surely brought into being, & history’s Horroxes, Boerhaaves & Gooses shall prevail. You & I, the moneyed, the privileged, the fortunate, shall not fare so badly in this world, provided our luck holds. What of it if our consciences itch? Why undermine the dominance of our race, our gunships, our heritage & our legacy? Why fight the ‘natural’ (o weaselly word!) order of things?
Why? Because of this: - one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. Yes, the Devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.
Is this the doom written within our nature?
If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree; if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.
A life spent shaping a world I want Jackson to inherit, not one I fear Jackson shall inherit, this strikes me as a life worth the living. Upon my return to San Francisco, I shall pledge myself to the Abolitionist cause, because I owe my life to a self-freed slave & because I must begin somewhere.
I hear my father-in-law’s response: ‘Oho, fine, Whiggish sentiments, Adam. But don’t tell me about justice! Ride to Tennessee on an ass & convince the rednecks that they are merely white-washed negroes & their negroes are black-washed Whites! Sail to the Old World, tell ‘em their imperial slavess’ rights are as inalienable as the Queen of Belgium’s! Oh, you’ll grow hoarse, poor & gray in caucuses! You’ll be spat on, shot at, lynched, pacified with medals, spurned by backwoodsman! Crucified! Naïve, dreaming Adam. He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!’
Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?” ( )
4 vote gbill | Feb 23, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 390 (next | show all)
Cloud Atlas is powerful and elegant because of Mitchell's understanding of the way we respond to those fundamental and primitive stories we tell about good and evil, love and destruction, beginnings and ends. He isn't afraid to jerk tears or ratchet up suspense - he understands that's what we make stories for.

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David Mitchellprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brick, ScottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Campbell, CassandraNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guest, Kim MaiNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heyborne, KirbyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Matthews, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mijn, Aad van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Hana and her grandparents.
First words
Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints.
Oh, once you've been initiated into the Elderly, the world doesn't want you back.
Sometimes the fluffy bunny of incredulity zooms around the bend so rapidly that the greyhound of language is left, agog, in the starting cage.
The stationmaster's whistle blew on time, the locomotive strained like a gouty proctor on the pot before heaving itself into motion.
"Are you mad?"
Always a trickier question than it looks. "I doubt it."

Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
The book consists of six nested stories that take us from the remote South Pacific in the nineteenth century to a distant, post-apocalyptic future. Each tale is revealed to be a story that is read (or watched) by the main character in the next.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375507256, Paperback)

Now a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant, and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer

A postmodern visionary who is also a master of styles of genres, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian lore of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction that reveals how disparate people connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.
“[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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:09 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan ?s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified "dinery server" on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation -- the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other ?s echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 8 descriptions

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Cloud Atlas Group Read: Spoiler Thread Week Two in 75 Books Challenge for 2011

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