Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas

4.0 418
by David Mitchell

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Now a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant
Directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer
“[David] Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and hisSee more details below


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

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Editorial Reviews

Jeff Turrentine
Hopscotching over centuries, Cloud Atlas likewise jumps in and out of half a dozen different styles, all of which display the author's astonishing talent for ventriloquism, and end up fitting together to make this a highly satisfying, and unusually thoughtful, addition to the expanding "puzzle book" genre.
The Washington Post
The New Yorker
Mitchell’s virtuosic novel presents six narratives that evoke an array of genres, from Melvillean high-seas drama to California noir and dystopian fantasy. There is a naïve clerk on a nineteenth-century Polynesian voyage; an aspiring composer who insinuates himself into the home of a syphilitic genius; a journalist investigating a nuclear plant; a publisher with a dangerous best-seller on his hands; and a cloned human being created for slave labor. These five stories are bisected and arranged around a sixth, the oral history of a post-apocalyptic island, which forms the heart of the novel. Only after this do the second halves of the stories fall into place, pulling the novel’s themes into focus: the ease with which one group enslaves another, and the constant rewriting of the past by those who control the present. Against such forces, Mitchell’s characters reveal a quiet tenacity. When the clerk is told that his life amounts to “no more than one drop in a limitless ocean,” he asks, “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”
Tom Bissell
To write a novel that resembles no other is a task that few writers ever feel prepared to essay. David Mitchell has written such a novel -- or almost has. In its need to render every kind of human experience, Cloud Atlas finds itself staring into the reflective waters of Joyce's Ulysses. Just as Joyce, in the scene that takes place in the cabman's shelter, found the hidden beauty of cliche-filled prose, so Mitchell does with his Luisa Rey story.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
At once audacious, dazzling, pretentious and infuriating, Mitchell's third novel weaves history, science, suspense, humor and pathos through six separate but loosely related narratives. Like Mitchell's previous works, Ghostwritten and number9dream (which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize), this latest foray relies on a kaleidoscopic plot structure that showcases the author's stylistic virtuosity. Each of the narratives is set in a different time and place, each is written in a different prose style, each is broken off mid-action and brought to conclusion in the second half of the book. Among the volume's most engaging story lines is a witty 1930s-era chronicle, via letters, of a young musician's effort to become an amanuensis for a renowned, blind composer and a hilarious account of a modern-day vanity publisher who is institutionalized by a stroke and plans a madcap escape in order to return to his literary empire (such as it is). Mitchell's ability to throw his voice may remind some readers of David Foster Wallace, though the intermittent hollowness of his ventriloquism frustrates. Still, readers who enjoy the "novel as puzzle" will find much to savor in this original and occasionally very entertaining work. Agent, Douglas Stewart. (Aug. 24) Forecast: Lots of buzz and a friendly paperback price will ensure strong sales, but like other fashionable tomes (think Pynchon's Mason & Dixon) Mitchell's novel may be more admired than read. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In what must rank among the year's more ambitious novels, Mitchell (Ghostwritten) presents six quasicliffhanger stories in six different time periods. Beginning with a mid-19th-century Pacific voyage, the book then vaults to an early 20th-century composer who cuckolds his mentor, a 1970s reporter pursued by hitmen when she joins forces with a company whistleblower, a put-upon editor trapped inside a home for the aged, a servant clone interrogated about her travels to the outside world, and, finally, a return to the Pacific, only centuries later in a post-civilization world. Got it? Now tie up the cliffhangers in reverse order, going backward in time. The stories have a loose connecting theme of pursuing freedom and justice, and Mitchell has a gift for creating fully realized worlds with a varied cast of characters. However, there are patches of rough sledding; while the clever construction serves to highlight the novel's big ideas, the continual interruptions may distance the average reader. After slogging through five half-stories, the author has the bravery (or foolishness?) to relate the sixth in an invented dialect for a long stretch. The book has received good press in the United Kingdom, but perhaps sensing a smaller audience, the U.S. publisher offers a trade paperback original at a "try me" price. Libraries may wish to do so for their more adventurous readers of literary fiction.-Marc Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Great Britain's answer to Thomas Pynchon outdoes himself with this maddeningly intricate, improbably entertaining successor to Ghostwritten (2000) and Number9Dream (2002). Mitchell's latest consists of six narratives set in the historical and recent pasts and imagined futures, all interconnected whenever a later narrator encounters and absorbs the story that preceded his own. In the first, it's 1850 and American lawyer-adventurer Adam Ewing is exploring endangered primitive Pacific cultures (specifically, the Chatham Islands' native Moriori besieged by numerically superior Maori). In the second, "The Pacific Diary of Adam Ewing" falls (in 1931) into the hands of bisexual musician Robert Frobisher, who describes in letters to his collegiate lover Rufus Sixsmith his work as amanuensis to retired and blind Belgian composer Vivian Ayrs. Next, in 1975, sixtysomething Rufus is a nuclear scientist who opposes a powerful corporation's cover-up of the existence of an unsafe nuclear reactor: a story investigated by crusading reporter Luisa Rey. The fourth story (set in the 1980s) is Luisa's, told in a pulp potboiler submitted to vanity publisher Timothy Cavendish, who soon finds himself effectively imprisoned in a sinister old age home. Mitchell then moves to an indefinite future Korea, in which cloned "fabricants" serve as slaves to privileged "purebloods"-and fabricant Sonmi-451 enlists in a rebellion against her masters. The sixth story, told in its entirety before the novel doubles back and completes the preceding five (in reverse order), occurs in a farther future time, when Sonmi is a deity worshipped by peaceful "Valleymen"-one of whom, goatherd Zachry Bailey, relates the epic tale of hispeople's war with their oppressors, the murderous Kona tribe. Each of the six stories invents a world, and virtually invents a language to describe it, none more stunningly than does Zachry's narrative ("Sloosha's Crossin' and Ev'rythin' After"). Thus, in one of the most imaginative and rewarding novels in recent memory, the author unforgettably explores issues of exploitation, tyranny, slavery, and genocide. Sheer storytelling brilliance. Mitchell really is his generation's Pynchon. Agency: Curtis Brown
From the Publisher
A Times (UK) Best Book of the Decade
A New York Times Notable Book
Globe and Mail 100 Best Book
Longlisted for the IMPAC Award

“[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

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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Movie Tie-in
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.58(w) x 8.28(h) x 1.14(d)

Read an Excerpt

Thursday, 7th November—

Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints. Through rotting kelp, sea cocoa-nuts & bamboo, the tracks led me to their maker, a White man, his trowzers & Pea-jacket rolled up, sporting a kempt beard & an outsized Beaver, shoveling & sifting the cindery sand with a teaspoon so intently that he noticed me only after I had hailed him from ten yards away. Thus it was, I made the acquaintance of Dr. Henry Goose, surgeon to the London nobility. His nationality was no surprise. If there be any eyrie so desolate, or isle so remote, that one may there resort unchallenged by an Englishman, ’tis not down on any map I ever saw.

Had the doctor misplaced anything on that dismal shore? Could I render assistance? Dr. Goose shook his head, knotted loose his ’kerchief & displayed its contents with clear pride. “Teeth, sir, are the enameled grails of the quest in hand. In days gone by this Arcadian strand was a cannibals’ banqueting hall, yes, where the strong engorged themselves on the weak. The teeth, they spat out, as you or I would expel cherry stones. But these base molars, sir, shall be transmuted to gold & how? An artisan of Piccadilly who fashions denture sets for the nobility pays handsomely for human gnashers. Do you know the price a quarter pound will earn, sir?”

I confessed I did not.

“Nor shall I enlighten you, sir, for ’tis a professional secret!” He tapped his nose. “Mr. Ewing, are you acquainted with Marchioness Grace of Mayfair? No? The better for you, for she is a corpse in petticoats. Five years have passed since this harridan besmirched my name, yes, with imputations that resulted in my being blackballed from Society.” Dr. Goose looked out to sea. “My peregrinations began in that dark hour.”

I expressed sympathy with the doctor’s plight.

“I thank you, sir, I thank you, but these ivories”—he shook his ’kerchief—“are my angels of redemption. Permit me to elucidate. The Marchioness wears dental fixtures fashioned by the afore- mentioned doctor. Next yuletide, just as that scented She-Donkey is addressing her Ambassadors’ Ball, I, Henry Goose, yes, I shall arise & declare to one & all that our hostess masticates with cannibals’ gnashers! Sir Hubert will challenge me, predictably, ‘Furnish your evidence,’ that boor shall roar, ‘or grant me satisfaction!’ I shall declare, ‘Evidence, Sir Hubert? Why, I gathered your mother’s teeth myself from the spittoon of the South Pacific! Here, sir, here are some of their fellows!’ & fling these very teeth into her tortoiseshell soup tureen & that, sir, that will grant me my satisfaction! The twittering wits will scald the icy Marchioness in their news sheets & by next season she shall be fortunate to receive an invitation to a Poorhouse Ball!”

In haste, I bade Henry Goose a good day. I fancy he is a Bedlamite.

Friday, 8th November—

In the rude shipyard beneath my window, work progresses on the jibboom, under Mr. Sykes’s directorship. Mr. Walker, Ocean Bay’s sole taverner, is also its principal timber merchant & he brags of his years as a master shipbuilder in Liverpool. (I am now versed enough in Antipodese etiquette to let such unlikely truths lie.) Mr. Sykes told me an entire week is needed to render the Prophet- ess “Bristol fashion.” Seven days holed up in the Musket seems a grim sentence, yet I recall the fangs of the banshee tempest & the mariners lost o’erboard & my present misfortune feels less acute.

I met Dr. Goose on the stairs this morning & we took breakfast together. He has lodged at the Musket since middle October after voyaging hither on a Brazilian merchantman, Namorados, from Feejee, where he practiced his arts in a mission. Now the doctor awaits a long-overdue Australian sealer, the Nellie, to convey him to Sydney. From the colony he will seek a position aboard a passenger ship for his native London.

My judgment of Dr. Goose was unjust & premature. One must be cynical as Diogenes to prosper in my profession, but cynicism can blind one to subtler virtues. The doctor has his eccentricities & recounts them gladly for a dram of Portuguese pisco (never to excess), but I vouchsafe he is the only other gentleman on this latitude east of Sydney & west of Valparaiso. I may even compose for him a letter of introduction for the Partridges in Sydney, for Dr. Goose & dear Fred are of the same cloth.

Poor weather precluding my morning outing, we yarned by the peat fire & the hours sped by like minutes. I spoke at length of Tilda & Jackson & also my fears of “gold fever” in San Francisco. Our conversation then voyaged from my hometown to my recent notarial duties in New South Wales, thence to Gibbon, Malthus & Godwin via Leeches & Locomotives. Attentive conversation is an emollient I lack sorely aboard the Prophetess & the doctor is a veritable polymath. Moreover, he possesses a handsome army of scrimshandered chessmen whom we shall keep busy until either the Prophetess’s departure or the Nellie’s arrival.

Saturday, 9th November—

Sunrise bright as a silver dollar. Our schooner still looks a woeful picture out in the Bay. An Indian war canoe is being careened on the shore. Henry & I struck out for “Banqueter’s Beach” in holy-day mood, blithely saluting the maid who labors for Mr. Walker. The sullen miss was hanging laundry on a shrub & ignored us. She has a tinge of black blood & I fancy her mother is not far removed from the jungle breed.

As we passed below the Indian hamlet, a “humming” aroused our curiosity & we resolved to locate its source. The settlement is circumvallated by a stake fence, so decayed that one may gain ingress at a dozen places. A hairless bitch raised her head, but she was toothless & dying & did not bark. An outer ring of ponga huts (fashioned from branches, earthen walls & matted ceilings) groveled in the lees of “grandee” dwellings, wooden structures with carved lintel pieces & rudimentary porches. In the hub of this village, a public flogging was under way. Henry & I were the only two Whites present, but three castes of spectating Indians were demarked. The chieftain occupied his throne, in a feathered cloak, while the tattooed gentry & their womenfolk & children stood in attendance, numbering some thirty in total. The slaves, duskier & sootier than their nut-brown masters & less than half their number, squatted in the mud. Such inbred, bovine torpor! Pockmarked & pustular with haki-haki, these wretches watched the punishment, making no response but that bizarre, beelike “hum.” Empathy or condemnation, we knew not what the noise signified. The whip master was a Goliath whose physique would daunt any frontier prizefighter. Lizards mighty & small were tattooed over every inch of the savage’s musculature:—his pelt would fetch a fine price, though I should not be the man assigned to relieve him of it for all the pearls of O-hawaii! The piteous prisoner, hoarfrosted with many harsh years, was bound naked to an A-frame. His body shuddered with each excoriating lash, his back was a vellum of bloody runes, but his insensible face bespoke the serenity of a martyr already in the care of the Lord.

I confess, I swooned under each fall of the lash. Then a peculiar thing occurred. The beaten savage raised his slumped head, found my eye & shone me a look of uncanny, amicable knowing! As if a theatrical performer saw a long-lost friend in the Royal Box and, undetected by the audience, communicated his recognition. A tattooed “blackfella” approached us & flicked his nephrite dagger to indicate that we were unwelcome. I inquired after the nature of the prisoner’s crime. Henry put his arm around me. “Come, Adam, a wise man does not step betwixt the beast & his meat.”

Sunday, 10th November—

Mr. Boerhaave sat amidst his cabal of trusted ruffians like Lord Anaconda & his garter snakes. Their Sabbath “celebrations” downstairs had begun ere I had risen. I went in search of shaving water & found the tavern swilling with Tars awaiting their turn with those poor Indian girls whom Walker has ensnared in an impromptu bordello. (Rafael was not in the debauchers’ number.)

I do not break my Sabbath fast in a whorehouse. Henry’s sense of repulsion equaled to my own, so we forfeited breakfast (the maid was doubtless being pressed into alternative service) & set out for the chapel to worship with our fasts unbroken.

We had not gone two hundred yards when, to my consternation, I remembered this journal, lying on the table in my room at the Musket, visible to any drunken sailor who might break in. Fearful for its safety (& my own, were Mr. Boerhaave to get his hands on it), I retraced my steps to conceal it more artfully. Broad smirks greeted my return & I assumed I was “the devil being spoken of,” but I learned the true reason when I opened my door:—to wit, Mr. Boerhaave’s ursine buttocks astraddle his Blackamoor Goldilocks in my bed in flagrante delicto! Did that devil Dutchman apologize? Far from it! He judged himself the injured party & roared, “Get ye hence, Mr. Quillcock! or by God’s B——d, I shall snap your tricksy Yankee nib in two!”

I snatched my diary & clattered downstairs to a riotocracy of merriment & ridicule from the White savages there gathered. I remonstrated to Walker that I was paying for a private room & I expected it to remain private even during my absence, but that scoundrel merely offered a one-third discount on “a quarter-hour’s gallop on the comeliest filly in my stable!” Disgusted, I retorted that I was a husband & a father! & that I should rather die than abase my dignity & decency with any of his poxed whores! Walker swore to “decorate my eyes” if I called his own dear daughters “whores” again. One toothless garter snake jeered that if possessing a wife & a child was a single virtue, “Why, Mr. Ewing, I be ten times more virtuous than you be!” & an unseen hand emptied a tankard of sheog over my person. I withdrew ere the liquid was swapped for a more obdurate missile.

The chapel bell was summoning the God-fearing of Ocean Bay & I hurried thitherwards, where Henry waited, trying to forget the recent foulnesses witnessed at my lodgings. The chapel creaked like an old tub & its congregation numbered little more than the digits of two hands, but no traveler ever quenched his thirst at a desert oasis more thankfully than Henry & I gave worship this morning. The Lutheran founder has lain at rest in his chapel’s cemetery these ten winters past & no ordained successor has yet ventured to claim captaincy of the altar. Its denomination, therefore, is a “rattle bag” of Christian creeds. Biblical passages were read by that half of the congregation who know their let- ters & we joined in a hymn or two nominated by rota. The “steward” of this demotic flock, one Mr. D’Arnoq, stood beneath the modest cruciform & besought Henry & me to participate in likewise manner. Mindful of my own salvation from last week’s tempest, I nominated Luke ch. 8, “And they came to him, & awoke him, saying, Master, master, we perish. Then he arose, & rebuked the wind & the raging of the water: & they ceased, & there was a calm.”

Henry recited from Psalm the Eighth, in a voice as sonorous as any schooled dramatist: “Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou has put all things under his feet: all sheep & oxen, yea & the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air & the fish of the sea & whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.”

No organist played a Magnificat but the wind in the flue chimney, no choir sang a Nunc Dimittis but the wuthering gulls, yet I fancy the Creator was not displeazed. We resembled more the Early Christians of Rome than any later Church encrusted with arcana & gemstones. Communal prayer followed. Parishioners prayed ad lib for the eradication of potato blight, mercy on a dead infant’s soul, blessing upon a new fishing boat, &c. Henry gave thanks for the hospitality shown us visitors by the Christians of Chatham Isle. I echoed these sentiments & sent a prayer for Tilda, Jackson & my father-in-law during my extended absence.

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