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Cote Dazur - yes please give us your insights on cloud atlas

(51 Posts)
10987 Sat 07-Jul-12 10:20:23

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.

CoteDAzur Sat 07-Jul-12 10:28:48

Oh dear. I should have known someone would take me up on that offer smile

10987 Sat 07-Jul-12 15:46:54

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.

CoteDAzur Sun 08-Jul-12 12:11:53

OK I will. Maybe not today (to will take at least an hour) but soon.

CoteDAzur Sun 08-Jul-12 15:18:27

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 smile). 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 smile

Now going on to the other themes...

CoteDAzur Sun 08-Jul-12 15:45:18

Oh actually, not even grin 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.

CoteDAzur Sun 08-Jul-12 16:05:00

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)

CoteDAzur Sun 08-Jul-12 16:05:56

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 smile

Colyngbourne Mon 09-Jul-12 08:51:00

applauds Cote

I really loved Cloud Atlas but my understanding didn't have the background and coherence of your explanations here - thank you!

LeB0f Mon 09-Jul-12 08:56:12

Oh, do please carry on- you are finding an appreciative audience!

Trills Mon 09-Jul-12 09:02:46

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.

hackmum Mon 09-Jul-12 09:10:35

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.

Jux Mon 09-Jul-12 09:17:05

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!.

CoteDAzur Mon 09-Jul-12 09:19:05

You are welcome smile

I have quite a bit more to write but it will have to wait a few hours as I'm moving today.

HolofernesesHead Mon 09-Jul-12 09:26:03

I need to read it again! Loved Cloud Atlas.

Trills Mon 09-Jul-12 09:31:01

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.

Jux Mon 09-Jul-12 13:53:27

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 grin 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!

Number44 Mon 09-Jul-12 14:01:26

Christ I'm thick. I read it and didn't even notice most this stuff blush

Facinating. I'm going to have to read it again

10987 Mon 09-Jul-12 14:08:52

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!!

Hopefullyrecovering Mon 09-Jul-12 14:10:13

I'm reading it Cote - keep going

CoteDAzur Mon 09-Jul-12 17:34:40

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 smile

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

CoteDAzur Mon 09-Jul-12 17:36:00

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 smile

CoteDAzur Tue 10-Jul-12 21:38:51

I knew it. Nobody is actually reading any of this. Ah well wine

Hopefullyrecovering Tue 10-Jul-12 22:08:14

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.

Jux Wed 11-Jul-12 08:34:17

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 thanks

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