Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas blew my mind.

A book comprised of six intertwining stories, this novel presents a theme of human struggle and understanding. The book is laid out into six Part Ones and six Part Twos; we begin each story only to move onto the next and then return to satisfy any cliff hanger that we encountered in the first half of the book. The stories move chronologically from the South Pacific in the nineteenth century to a post-apocalyptic world far off into the future. Each story centers around a splice of one character’s life and showcases a profound look into human nature. What I thought was interesting was how each character had the same birthmark throughout the novel, half inferring that they were all the same soul drifting into different lives. I like that thought, that throughout thousands of years we are all drifting through time in new lives but profoundly connected to our past selves. I want to talk a little bit about my favorite characters and their stories.

Robert Frobisher. Robert lives in the early to mid 1900s and is a young, adventurous, fiercely intelligent young man with a gift for music. He has been cast out by his wealthy family and cut off with no clear future in sight. What I loved about Robert was his ostentatious attitude and his courage to live his life. Robert decides to seek out a famous and world renowned composer and ask him for a job as an assistant. It sounds crazy because it was but Robert went along and got that job. He lived with the composer and had an affair with his wife while composing masterpiece after masterpiece. It soon became clear to Robert that he was better with music than this composer, and with his spit fire personality it is no surprise that he made this clear to the man. The interesting thing is Robert’s brutal honestly in his letters to his friend Sixsmith where he records all his feelings and interpretations of the day’s events. What I found odd about Robert’s story is that he comes into it as a young, wild kid that seems to have everything figured out, or at least has the confidence to figure everything out, but he ends up killing himself. My theory is that Frobisher was young, curious, and quick to act and he could only ever be that type of person. Growing up was never an option for Robert and to a man who lived life to such a high degree, death didn’t mean much.

Sonmi-451 was another character in Mitchell’s masterpiece, a clone in a world centuries in the future where technology does not only make life easier, but is life entirely, Sonmi is telling the story of her terse but important life. Sonmi is a clone just like any other but unlike other mindless drones she became self aware. This sort of thing was not permitted and soon Sonmi’s curiosity got her into trouble with the government. I like Sonmi’s character because once again we see a fearless person insisting that they live their lives free of oppression and on their own terms. Sonmi creates a bill of rights for clones nationwide but soon discovers that her rebellion was precisely planned by the government so that people and clones alike could have a common enemy. Despite the trickery, Sonmi states that she is glad that it played out this way because no matter what her words were out there for people to see whether or not they chose to believe them mattered little. This story looks at human nature’s natural cruelty and gives us an objective glimpse of it from Sonmi’s perspective.

Mitchell’s novel centers around one theme in particular, human nature and its ever changing impact. The title, “Cloud Atlas” is a representation of that. Imagine having an atlas to the clouds in the sky, they are ever changing and moving, much like people’s ideas, culture, and nature.

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