Cote Dazur - yes please give us your insights on cloud atlas(49 Posts)
I read it and thought it was the worst book I ever read. I would be genuinly interested to see what I missed as it has bugged me for years that I didn't "get it".
So please if you have time let me know what I missed.
Oh dear. I should have known someone would take me up on that offer
haha - well you don't have to tell me everything but just the gist of what I obviously just didn't get - please!
It is really annoyed me for years that I didn't like it as I know it is probably a good book but I didn't understand it.
OK I will. Maybe not today (to will take at least an hour) but soon.
OK, this is actually not easy because Cloud Atlas is quite a complicated book, made up of six stories from the lives of six people separated in time and place. These six stories are exactly the same length and all but the last one are divided exactly in half (I didn't count pages you can see this easily in Kindle as each chapter is 8% of total ). The first halves build up the stories, develop the suspense, and the second halves all fold into each other in a matrioshka doll sort of way.
There are several themes in the book that echo through each story, and basically give the message of Eternal Recurrence an ancient concept (especially in Egypt & India) resurrected by Nietzsche, basically saying that what happened before is happening now in various guises, and will continue to happen in the future. Author bangs on about this quite a bit in Letters From Zedelghem, so we know it is an important part of what he is trying to say.
The main theme I see in Cloud Atlas is *Strong prey on the weak*:
This starts in the 1st story with colonialism and slavery not to mention Dr Henry Goose poisoning Adam Ewing to steal from him:
- HG talks about "a cannibals' banqueting hall where the strong engorged themselves on the weak"
- The English don't interfere when Maori were butchering the Moriori because "a wise man doesn't step between the beast and his meat"
- "Maori proved themselves apt pupils of the English in the dark arts of colonisation"
- Cruel hazing of soldiers
- Rafael repeatedly raped by the captain
- HG poisoning AE for money
AE starts out racist (as was the norm at the time) looking at slaves & thinking "such inbred, bovine torpor!" and saying things like "I craved the presence of men of my hue, yes, even the rude sailors". But then he meats Altua, the last Moriori, saves him, then in turn is saved by him, and decides to work to end slavery.
HG brutally cuts through the chase re racism and says one race isn't superior over the other, and that it's all about "The weak are meat that the strong do eat" (Japanese proverb), and the truth is "that we hurry the darker races to their grave to take their land & riches".
Racism is the coping mechanism through which we rationalise our exploitation, subjugation, and even extermination of the weaker people - i.e. they are sub-human, so it's ok to kill them.
.... Well done if you have read so far
Now going on to the other themes...
Oh actually, not even There is much more on the theme of the strong's cruelty towards the weak:
The 2nd story Letters from Zedelghem develops this theme through war:
- "European music is passionately savage, broken by long silences" (re European history & wars)
- Dhondt says "To those on the menu, the sauce is of no concern"
- Frobisher kills a pheasant that they hit by car out of pity and says "unpleasant not the same as shooting them, not at all" (killing is not fun when you recognize that they are real live beings, too)
- Dhondt says "Another war is always coming. The will to power, the backbone of human nature, sparks wars. Nations are entities whose laws are written by violence. Diplomacy cleans war's spillages, legitimises its outcomes, gives strong state the means to impower its will on weaker one, while saving its fleets & batallions for weightier opponents"
Will to power is another major concept from the works of Nietzsche.
In the 3rd story Half-Lives: First Luisa Rey Mystery, the strong are the corporations and the weak are the individuals, represented by activists.
- "Corporations have money, power, and influence. All we have is public outrage. The media is where democracies conduct their civil wars."
- "Power = the ability to determine another's luck"
- Grimaldi has Sixsmith killed for the company and attempts to have Luisa Rey killed
- Triplets at cancer charity say corporations should take over, then the country will be a true meritocracy, foreshadowing Sonmi's world in the 5th story.
In the 4th story Ghastly Ordeal Of Timothy Cavendish, young people in position of authority are the strong and the old are the weak:
- At retirement home, T.C. quotes Solzhenitsyn "Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty"
In the 5th story An Orison of Sonmi-451, cloned fabricants are the slaves of a purely corporate world.
- Religion used to enslave/control fabricants > pray to Papa Song, Catechisms, "blasphemy" to question it, etc (like religion was utilised to by the white man to enslave/control the darker races)
- Sonmi says ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to violence, which leads to "more violence until the only law is whatever the most powerful wants"
In the 6th and final story Sloosha's Crossin' An' Ev'rythin' After, slavery and casual cruelty return, as the Kona enslave and murder Valleysmen.
Through all this, the book looks at Civilisation - what is it and who has it - and concludes that it is about choices on an individual level, rather than tall buildings and technology. The author seems to be saying that what we call civilisation is nothing more than ascent into a higher level of consciousness/awareness/behaviour. (He uses the ascent vs descent allegory quite a lot in this sense):
In ^Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing^:
- AE thinks Dr HG is oh so civilized and stowaway Autua is a savage > H.G. turns out to be a murderous beast while Autua is kind and civilised
- AE says "Maybe natives would be happier undiscovered, but isn't ascent up Civilisation's ladder their sole salvation?"
- Vicious acts vs virtuous acts
- Predatory world will consume itself
- Only by harnessing our selfish nature, sharing the world with other races & species, making power accountable and violence muzzled can we avoid this fate
In ^An Orison of Sonmi-451^:
Sonmi ascends to higher consciousness, also physically *ascends& out of Papa Song's into the plaza in a lift. This whole story is an almost perfect allegory of Plato's Allegory of the Cave from his book "The Republic", which is one of the books that Sonmi read.
Plato says we are all like people in a cave, chained to a rocks (so we can't turn our heads), thinking that the shadows we see on the cave wall are "reality". And the philosopher is the one who breaks free, ascends out of the cave, and after a brief period where she can't see anything because of too much light, sees real objects for the first time. Then this person comes back into the cave and tries to tell her shackled friends about reality, but they can't understand her. Because she has experienced and got used to the real world, alien to theirs, she cannot explain it to them. This is exactly what happens to Sonmi.
In ^Sloosha's Crossin' An' Ev'rythin' After^:
- Valley people sound like savages (re lack of technology) at first, but they are actually the civilized ones (re attitudes and actions)
- Meronym's makes the distinction between animal = savage (slave to their immediate needs their id) vs civilized people (their will is their slave ego controls id)
I have more on this, but before I spend another hour putting it down, I'd like to know if you are reading it and if you would like me to continue
I really loved Cloud Atlas but my understanding didn't have the background and coherence of your explanations here - thank you!
Oh, do please carry on- you are finding an appreciative audience!
Before reading what Cote has said I want to say that I enjoyed Cloud Atlas.
I liked being a bit confused and thinking where did my story go?
I liked realising that story number 1 existed in story number 2, etc.
I liked having some very different styles of book (and voices of the main characters).
I liked realising finally that the stories were doing what the instruments did in the piece of music.
My favourite was An Orison of Somni VI (probably didn't remember that precisely) but that's because I like things like that (what measure a human?). Not so keen on the very last/middle book, not because I don't like that kind of thing (post-apocalyptic, rules of non-interference in a culture thatc ome across quite patronising) but because I can't stand it when things are written in dialect.
Thanks for taking the time to set your thoughts down, Cote - very much enjoyed it.
I loved Cloud Atlas, but mainly because it was so clever. I just admired the way he kept five different stories going, in five completely different genres, but with ideas from one continued in the next, and in the end it all tied together beautifully. It's such ambitious writing, and very different from so many modern British novels, which are very small in scale.
Very interesting, Cote. I must re-read, as I will get a lot more out of it now, so please continue! I loved it the first time I read it, anyway. My fave was Sonmi as I did recognize the ave and felt terribly clever, and didn't enjoy the last book as I don't much like dialect either.
Loved Jacob de Z as well - think there are similar themes running through, especially the strong feeding on the weak (but I am probably wrong!). Would love your analysis of that too!.
You are welcome
I have quite a bit more to write but it will have to wait a few hours as I'm moving today.
I need to read it again! Loved Cloud Atlas.
I think I may have been remembering the middle story wrong - you're talking about slavery and all I remember is the woman from the "civilization" being very kind and ever-so-patronising.
Actually, Trills, I don't know which book it was either. I put 'last' because you did, but it's a long time since I read it so actually have no idea It's the dialect one anyway. My memory of the whole thing is very hazy, but I know I loved it; hence the need for a re-read!
Christ I'm thick. I read it and didn't even notice most this stuff
Facinating. I'm going to have to read it again
thank you cotedazur I will read it again with your notes as I knew it was something along the lines of what you are saying but was/am too thick or not well read enough to really understand it.
I am going on holiday in 2 weeks so will do it then so I can read it properly.
Good luck with your move today and you are very good to take the time to reply!!
I'm reading it Cote - keep going
I'm according myself a half hour of "rest", so here it goes:
Aside from strong prey on the weak and civilisation, another major theme in Cloud Atlas is the fragility of knowledge - we reach wisdom and understanding in old age but we soon die, and we can't really leave this wisdom/knowledge to future generations. What we manage to leave behind is invariably distorted and possibly even incomprehensible to our grandchildren and beyond.
In Cloud Atlas, this theme is portrayed as the great tragedy of humanity, imho. This is why we are bound to repeat past generations' mistakes - because we don't really know the lessons our ancestors learned the hard way.
This theme is repeated in each story:
Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing
- Moriori are actually the Maori who have travelled to Chatham Island & within a few generations, forgot to make ships and even forgot their origins and their tribe's name (I learned this not from Cloud Atlas but from an interview with David Mitchell)
- Autua witnesses the death of his culture at the hands of Maori (just like Zach'ry later witnesses the death of his at the hands of the Kona)
- Rafael (young sailor) says a song is "the only thing he still has of his mum"
- Polynesian missionary town's many children are naked & they behave like natives > forgotten their own culture's ways
- Missionaries forbid natives from going on sacred grounds > native children don't even know names of old idols anymore
Letters from Zedelghem
- Frobisher & Dhondt know that humans' will to power & powers of destruction will "snuff out homo sapiens" but wisdom doesn't get transmitted to others around them
Half Lives: First Luisa Rey Mystery
- Luisa embellishes the story of her father with each retelling (story changes over time)
- Megan sees an old woman's portrait and thinks "She sees things that I don't"
- Right before his plane explodes, Isaac Sachs has an epiphany and writes:
(1) actual past (fades as witnesses die off and documents perish) vs virtual past (created from hearsay, reworked memories, fiction = belief, and grows ever stronger and eclipses actual past)
(2) virtual future (= wishes, dreams, prophecies, may influence near future) vs actual future (will eclipse virtual future when its time comes)
... and of course this insight perishes in an instant when the bomb goes off.
In this story, David Mitchell has done something very clever (imho) and not only said "knowledge is so fragile that we don't know much that was so important a few years back" but proved it. We all read the name of this story, know the name of the protagonist, and the part where she falls off a bridge. Did any of us remember The Bridge of San Luis Rey? By all accounts, it is a great book - Pulitzer Prize Winner published in 1927 that tells the story of several interrelated people who die in the collapse of a bridge.
Is the author saying "Look, even such a great book is now completely forgotten, such that you didn't pick up on 'Luisa Rey' falling off a bridge. So what hope do any of us have that our books/accounts/stories will be remembered?"
This sort of thing separates very good books from truly great ones, imho
Anyway, this theme of the fragility of knowledge and attempts to make one's stories last continues in the other parts of the book:
Ghastly Ordeal Of Timothy Cavendish
- TC is in the business of "vanity publishing" his authors want to present their bound memoirs to friends, to family, for posterity > so that their experiences/lives are not forgotten
- TC reads "The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire" (foreshadowing)
- TC receives Luisa Rey's story and thinks it is fiction (Is cultural memory so short that he wouldn't know/remember such a highly publicised event?)
- Old men are expected to be invisible, silent, and scared, rather than listened to for their experience and wisdom
- TC says "The world tolerates dictators, perverts, and drug barons but slowness of old people, it cannot abide"
An Orison of Sonmi-451
- "451" seems to be a nod at Fahrenheit 451, dystopian book about censorship & control of knowledge to suppress dissenting ideas, as if those ideas never existed (451 F is the temperature at which paper auto-combusts)
- Sonmi also talks about this in her account.
(1)"Why does state outlaw history? Is it because history provides a bank of human experience that rivals the media's?"
(2) "Time is the speed at which the past disappears. As if the dead are saying 'We were as you are, the present doesn't matter'"
Sloosha's Crossin' An' Ev'rythin' After
- Pretty much the entire knowledge base of humanity has disappeared, following a catastrophic event
- Satellite dishes in Hawaii where Sixsmith's niece used to work are now considered sacred/haunted > their purpose is forgotten
OK, that took me an hour - eek!
I have one more big post to make, about how Mitchell developes Eternal Recurrence, and then we can discuss
I knew it. Nobody is actually reading any of this. Ah well
I'm reading it Cote! And I'd read the novel too, but perhaps not understood it so well as I thought I had. Thank you for sharing your insight.
I'm reading it Cote! It is very enriching and I am looking forward to reading the book again with your posts next to me. Thank you; hard work but very worthwhile for us ignorant lot.
I'd not heard of the San Luis Rey bridge book, but I am interested in reading it now. I knew F 451, it was one of the first sc fi books I read, and I had noted that Sonmi had the same number, but hadn't got much further with that thought.
I tend to read first for the plot and characters, and then subsequent reads get more out of a book. DH has stashed Cloud Atlas so I hadn't got around to re-reading as my eye hasn't just fallen on it. (We are in the process of getting more shelves, and stashed books are gradually coming out into the light!)
Your notes are very definitely appreciated. Thank you
I'm reading your insights and really appreciating them.
I had picked up the Fahrenheit 451 and The Bridge of San Luis Rey references ( I read the latter not long before I read Cloud Atlas).
It probably is time to re-read this in the light of your posts.
OK, good to see I'm not just typing away to myself
So, the last post will be about Eternal Recurrence and those thoughts echoing through the six stories of Cloud Atlas, and various other connections between the stories:
- AE almost died at the hands of Dr HG > In the next story, Frobisher says that he "never met a quack whom I didn't half suspect of plotting to do me in as expensively as he could contrive" before he reads the 2nd half of AE's journal
- Frobisher writes a sextet for overlapping soloists > the layout of the book Cloud Atlas > "revolutionary or gimmicky?"
- AE's ship "Prophetess" is preserved & displayed at Cape Yerbas where Sixsmith's yacht is moored, and where Luisa Rey goes to find his documents
- Luisa Rey "remembers" the Chateau at Zedelghem when she reads Frobisher's letters
- Sonmi "remembers" Luisa's fall off the bridge
- Boerhaave was thrown off ship in A.E.'s journal > Luisa falls off the bridge > a literary critic gets thrown off a building at Timothy Cavendish's story > a replicant doll is thrown off a bridge in Sonmi's story
- AE's story takes place near Hawaii > Sonmi's replicants' heaven is Hawaii > Zach'ry's story takes place in Hawaii
- Luisa Rey's mother lives in "Ewingsville" > so named because the famous Abolitionist AE lived there?
- AE saves Autua who then saves AE back > Luisa Rey's father saves Napier who then saves his daughter Luisa
- About a ticket seller, TC says "the corporation breeds them from the same stem cell" > Sonmi & other sellers actually bred from the same stem cells (foreshadowing)
- HG tries to kill AE, slavery abound in their time, Maori kill & enslave Moriori as sub-humans > Frobisher wants to leech off Ayrs, Ayrs steals from Frobisher > corporation kills Sixsmith, doesn't care if nuclear disaster happens, wants to kill Luisa > old people are treated cruelly, like sub-humans > people enslave replicants because they are sub-human then kill them off > Kona enslave & kill valley people
- "Untermensch slums" > Sonmi's world still using Nietzsche terminology
- In Sonmi's world, the abbess of people living in the wild like Tibetans still pray to Siddharta = Buddha
- Meronym stayed with horse-raising tribe on Swannake Island where the nuclear plant that Luisa Rey investigated was
- Sonmi's password is "These are the tears of things" = Sunt lacrimae rerum which is how Frobisher ends his last letter
This is a significant phrase, from Virgil's book The Aeneid. While gazing at a scene of Trojan War (deaths of his friends & countrymen), he weeps and says "sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt" (these are tears of things and sufferings touch the mind, perhaps better translated as "the world is a world of tears, and the burdens of mortality touch the heart", as in the Wikipedia link above), referring to the futility of war & waste of human life
References about eternal recurrence each story:
Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing
A.E. says missionary's "gaze was gravid with the ancient future"
Letters from Zedelghem
- Ayrs' final major work to be named "Eternal Recurrence"
- Ayrs' "Bible" is Nietzsche's en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thus_Spoke_Zarathustra. Zarathustra was the founder of Zoroastrianism, which says God created twin spirits: One chose truth & light, the other chose untruth & darkness (alluding to the struggle between the savage and the civilized in each of us?)
- At the end, Frobisher says that he will be born to relive his life again, before he commits suicide
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery
- "Half-lives" refers to (1) radiation, (2) structure of this book
- Richard says his guru "is on his last reincarnation" before Nirvana
- Luisa says Hitchcoc's best films are scary rollercoasters that let riders get off in the end giggling & eager for another ride. "The key to fictitious terror is partition or containment (Bates Motel is sealed off from the world). But a film that shows the world is a Bates Motel, well, that's the stuff of Buchoe, dystopia, depression" > No such luck in this book. Author doesn't let us giggle in the end.
- Sixsmith's niece does radioastronomy research at big satellite dishes in Hawaii > same place Zach'ry's people think is sacred/haunted in the end
Ghastly Ordeal Of Timothy Cavendish
- T.C. says re Luisa's account "not original, but there can't be anything not done 100 times between Aristophanes & Andrew Void Webber"
Sloosha's Crossin' An' Ev'rythin' After
- They believe in reincarnation "we knew we'd always be reborn as Valleysmen, so death wasn't as scary for us" > unless Old Georgie gets you to behave like a savage (reminiscent of Moriori's philosophy of pacifism)
- Icon'ry diary/thoughts/lives of ancestors, for posterity
- Zach'ry sees a globe and says "if world is a ball, why don't we fall off?"
- They sing "Rudolph the Red-Ringed Goat Thief" > how the Xmas song has changed > fragility of knowledge
Although not technically recurrence per se, there is also the theme of reincarnation (with the comet birthmark), from a psychopathic murderer (probably) and then an immoral & arrogant thief, to an altruistic person with principles who risks her life for what is right, then first a reluctant martyr and then to a deliberately altruistic person with morals and principles.
... and still this "improvement" of personality and behaviour of every soul "crossing ages like clouds cross the skies" doesn't save humanity. Why? Is it because reincarnated people don't remember their previous lives, except for fleeting visions of old castles and falling off bridges?
Off to add to my Amazon wish list as I must understand what all this was about.
Thank you so much. Have now finished the bit of fluff I was reading and off to re-read this.
(so happy about reincarnation, as I thought that was going on, but dh said no)
That is so interesting - thank you. Another one who has been fixated by this book for a few years but hasn't fully understood it.
I'm delighted to have an excuse to re-read it.
Oh and also...
Maybe some of you already know this, but the word Meronym means "part of a whole that is used to refer to the whole", like the word face in the sentence "I see many familiar faces in the crowd" refers to person.
Meronym's friend Duophysite also has a meaningful name. The word Duophysite is a theological word that means "double nature", used to refer to Jesus being both 100% human and 100% God.
All seems to point at double meanings, but I can't say why author chose those names for those two characters. Any ideas?
Hopefully everyone you have inspired to read/re-read the book, Cote, will come back in a few weeks/months' time with their thoughts on those two names (and other responses to the book too).
Just started re-reading last night, only a few pages in but have seen some of your themes appearing already.
Can't answer your question about names yet; having started reading it, I realise I remember nothing - nothing! - of the first read . <note to self: must read more slowly>
Thank you so much, Cote, this time the book will mean so much more (and may stick in my head).
(I don't suppose you'd be prepared to do The Cornish Trilogy, Robertson Davies, next, would you? OK, not serious, but it would be seriously good if you did )
Cote, I'm curious. What is your academic background?
I ask because I think of myself as being a whizz at Eng Lit (and endearingly modest too). Your insight, and the power of your analysis is just awesome. Leaves me standing.
Thank you for the praise, although I'm not sure that I deserve it. I last studied Eng Lit in high school and I'm not even a native speaker of English
My background is in architecture, history of art, engineering, and finance (university degree + MBA) and all the analysis I've done in the past twenty years or so has been mathematical or financial.
Even higher praise then! I had assumed you were an Eng Lit lecturer, and this was below your usual standard of book. Imagined you slaving over Ulysses, or something!
just saw the new movie trailer for Cloud Atlas, by the makers/producers of the Matrix. wonder how it could fit all the complicated themes written of here. iv never read the book nor plan to watch the film but i followed this thread a month ago so thought to give a heads up!
Cote thank you so much for taking the time - you are truly awesome.
Must reread Cloud Atlast now.
I really enjoyed Jacob de Z. - much more traditional story telling though.
See, when people say 'everybody has a book in them'? I always think 'aye, a book, mebbe, but not a great book'.
David Mitchell rocks!
Yes, I am an intellectual heavyweight !
Cote, thank you again. (I know this is getting to be an old thread now). I reread Cloud Atlas, and enjoyed it all the more for your analysis. I am sorry, but I can't add anything noteworthy, and I honestly don't think I'm capable of having a discussion about it (not in writing anyway).
I really do appreciate your having taken the time and made the effort. and aplenty.
crescent - Thank you for that trailer. It is clearer on the IMDB page, if anyone wants to see it again.
It looks like the directors have focused on the adventure and the theme of reincarnation, possibly at the expense of some of the other major themes. As you said, it would have been impossible for all of the above to fit into a 2-hour film. I'm looking forward to it, actually, even if it has been lobotomised into merely a thriller.
I know this is quite an old thread but just wanted to say it really inspired me to read the book again with your notes in mind, so it might do the same for someone else who (like me) had missed this thread.
I have just finished rereading Cloud Atlas (and should really go to sleep!), but dug this thread out to say thank you to Coted'Azur .
What a phantastic analysis of a great book.
I am not sure though whether David Mitchell is making a positive statement ("See how resilient Man is; whatever disaster befalls mankind, some form of civilisation prevails") or a rather depressingly glum one ("Man is destined to make the same mistakes over and over and over again").
The man is 3 years my junior - I really envy him his creative power although I do wonder what it must be like, living with his mind??
Oooooh, the movie trailer looks good!
It'd be impossible to get all the themes into one film, but this might be one literary adaptation I might go and see (I liked Run, Lola, Run too).
Oh I'm definitely seeing the movie. Can't wait. The movie can't possibly have all the angles of this film, but I just hope that they won't have butchered it too badly. In any case, it will be interesting to see Wachowskis' vision of Cloud Atlas settings & characters.
Pacific - The impression I got was that David Mitchell was pessimistic. No matter how enlightened we are as people and even as cultures, we make the same mistakes and are one major disaster away from breakdown of all law & order and a return to illiterate savagery.
The irony (and imho heartbreaking cruelty) of the book is that it ends on a positive note (Adam Ewing deciding to dedicate his life to fighting slavery, believing (iirc) that humankind can change, that we can learn to live in peace. Of course, we know how it all ended and can only "watch" his enthusiasm and optimism in sadness.
Cote, I agree, it looks pessimistic, but OTOH in every 'book' there are civilised, good people which allow humankind to go on. Even Somni451 was a good person once she ascended - her moral compass was set right.
The whole idea of humankind repeating the same mistakes over and over again, is depressing, but the world keeps turning with some good people trying their best. Or summat <<articulate>>.
See you at the cinema, then!
Cote Thank you for taking the time for a perceptive and clear analysis.
I am teaching Hunger Games to my very clever Y9s after Christmas and we have a couple of weeks to prepare so I decided to use the Sonmi 451 chapters as a short story for us to read and analyse.
So while preparing my lessons for this week and thought I wonder what MN has to say about Cloud Atlas
work avoidance, moi? and I really enjoyed reading your thoughts, particularly the links to Nietzsche as I don't have much knowledge in that area.
You are very welcome
I was reading sci-fi as a teenager, too, and would recommend Asimov's "I, Robot" and Scott Orson Card's "Ender's Game" for your DS.
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