Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas

A Novel

eBook - 2004
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By the New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Clocks * Now a major motion picture * Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

Includes a new Afterword by David Mitchell

A postmodern visionary and one of the leading voices in twenty-first-century fiction, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian love of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending, philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco, Haruki Murakami, and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction as profound as it is playful. In this groundbreaking novel, an influential favorite among a new generation of writers, Mitchell explores with daring artistry fundamental questions of reality and identity.

Cloud Atlas begins in 1850 with Adam Ewing, an American notary voyaging from the Chatham Isles to his home in California. Along the way, Ewing is befriended by a physician, Dr. Goose, who begins to treat him for a rare species of brain parasite. . . . Abruptly, the action jumps to Belgium in 1931, where Robert Frobisher, a disinherited bisexual composer, contrives his way into the household of an infirm maestro who has a beguiling wife and a nubile daughter. . . . From there we jump to the West Coast in the 1970s and a troubled reporter named Luisa Rey, who stumbles upon a web of corporate greed and murder that threatens to claim her life. . . . And onward, with dazzling virtuosity, to an inglorious present-day Engl∧ to a Korean superstate of the near future where neocapitalism has run amok; and, finally, to a postapocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii in the last days of history.

But the story doesn't end even there. The narrative then boomerangs back through centuries and space, returning by the same route, in reverse, to its starting point. Along the way, Mitchell reveals how his disparate characters connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.

As wild as a videogame, as mysterious as a Zen koan, Cloud Atlas is an unforgettable tour de force that, like its incomparable author, has transcended its cult classic status to become a worldwide phenomenon.

Praise for Cloud Atlas

"[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
Publisher: New York : Delacorte Press, [2004]
ISBN: 9780307483041
Branch Call Number: EBOOK FIC MITCHEL
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc


From the critics

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Jan 14, 2021

Overly complex and fixated on arcane vocabulary of the past, present and future! Supposed linkages among characters and settings is a huge stretch. No joy in fighting your way through 500 pages of this confounding and often perverse set of stories, disguised as a novel.

Aug 29, 2020

From Economist "his best novel."

Aug 26, 2020

Modern Mrs Darcy
Didn't finish it. Became boring.

Aug 02, 2020

a great escape during our quarantine

Aug 01, 2020


Jul 23, 2020

Some have likened this to a Matryoshka, a Russian doll-within-a-doll; I would rather suggest a meandering scavenger-hunt, each discovery pointing (cryptically) toward the next stop along a journey that encompasses five centuries or so but ultimately returning more or less to the starting point, about 1850. I’ve shelved it as fantasy but I could just as easily call it an extended morality tale. The impression that stuck with me was that of wandering through a succession of dreams that form a vortex, spiraling ever deeper into the abyss, culminating in a post-apocalyptic vision of the future. The Sonmi-451 tale is the most compelling (and disturbing); Mitchell’s choice of the word “orison” was truly inspired, suggesting an invocation for the dead— here, the death of an entire society, culminating in a corpocracy (perhaps Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale taken to its logical conclusion!). The connections between successive protagonists is sometimes tenuous (Adam Ewing to Robert Frobisher to Rufus Sixsmith to Luisa Rey to Timothy Cavendish to Sonmi-451 to Zachry Bailey – and back again) so I’m not entirely satisfied that this contrivance is really a novel at all, but just a set of six loosely connected stories.
Apart from Luisa Rey’s segment (a fairly conventional tale of corporate greed and malfeasance) this is very much a character-driven book; accordingly a few observations about the protagonists would be germane. Ewing is perhaps the least interesting of the lot, bit of a nebbish and yet it’s been left to him to define the overarching purpose of the book, which he does surprisingly well at the end. Frobisher is a talented fellow entirely lacking in a moral compass and (appropriately) Mitchell shows him no mercy. Luisa Rey is a character worth cheering for despite the Hollywood-style predictability of her role. Timothy Cavendish and his “ordeal” offers some welcome relief, hilariously horrifying. Zachry Bailey’s tale struck me as material perhaps more suited to a graphic novel but he was skillfully drawn and offered more substance than expected. For me, Sonmi-451 took center stage as the most intriguing personality. That was an impressive achievement, considering that this sort of dystopian material is usually a real turn-off for me, the kind of scene I seek to avoid wherever possible.
I don’t suppose I’ve done justice to this book. But for me, it was just too gimmicky, so its obvious merits got submerged in the inside-outside manipulation of stories, characters and themes, along with the disconnect of eras, events and discordant voices; I couldn’t help thinking that Mitchell was showing off his facility for switching personas and dialects. There were passages where it seemed to me Mitchell was writing “from the heart” (e.g. in Frobisher’s emotional disintegration and in Ewing’s final comments) but there were also many places where I just wanted it to move along. Perhaps Mitchell was trying a bit too hard and it showed. Am I missing something?

Hillsboro_JeanineM Jun 15, 2020

" It's a nested box of stories, each one a virtuosic performance in an entirely different style from the last. " NPR. There were some story-lines that I connected with better but it is an amazing feat of writing to thread these stories together.

Jun 17, 2019

Read the book before you see the movie. The Outstanding book flows much better than the Most Excellent movie. (Sidebar: The is another Outstanding book/novel entitled "The Cloud Atlas" by Liam Callanan unrelated to this tale . . . yet a great read involving Alaska during WW2 and Japanese "lantern-kite" bombs.)

JCLIanH May 02, 2019

This one is just such an absolute pleasure to read. David Mitchell gives each segment its own distinct style/pastiche, and each is masterfully done. He never bashes you over the head with the how the stories intertwine, and it makes those connections that much more thrilling when you stumble across a reference to a previous chapter. At first I couldn't see the reason for splitting the stories in half and arranging them like a pyramid, but as the second half of each story landed the central themes came into sharp focus and it was like having six separate brilliantly executed and satisfying payoffs.

Mar 15, 2019

Erica was reading this at Stanford

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Aug 04, 2013

A convoluted mess that wanders along several threads. Found the one interesting thread and finished it across several chapters, then gave up on the book.

Luv2cNewThings Jul 12, 2013

The reader follows a group of different people through reincarnations - starting with Adam Ewing. It seems that regardless if a character lived a full life or not, his or her story goes on.

The reader also goes on a passage of time. He/she will reach the pinnacle of humanity, which falls and starts all over again for a lack of better terminology!

On a side note: It was interesting how David Mitchell structured the novel. Unfortunately, it simply did not keep my interest.

AnneDromeda Jan 07, 2013

David Mitchell’s *Cloud Atlas,* released in 2004, fits the definition of a sleeper hit. Ridiculously well reviewed, its unconventional composition threw many early readers. It took time for word of mouth to spread from those tenacious readers who made it far enough into the book to make sense of Mitchell’s ambitious project. Eventually, even Hollywood caught on, so those of you who’re interested in the premise but frustrated by the execution can go take it all in on the silver screen right now. You could. But I really think you should read the book first, and not just because I’m a librarian.<br />

*Cloud Atlas* is composed of six separate stories fit together like matroishka dolls. It begins with the epistolary narrative of a man at sea in the South Pacific in the 1860s, witnessing the last gasps of the slave trade and the messy, colonial birth of global capitalism and industrialism. The flowery writing perfectly suits a 19th-century adventure tale full of pirates, sailing, exploring and riches. However, just as the action begins to really pick up, the narrative ends mid-sentence.<br />

Another – seemingly unrelated – narrative begins. It follows the couch-surfing adventures of a brilliant composer named Robert Frobisher through 1930s Europe. Full of witty, Wildean dialogue, this narrative is more than entertaining enough to carry the reader through to Frobisher’s discovery of a book sharing the title of *Cloud Atlas*’s interrupted opening narrative in the South Pacific. <br />

Having just gotten readers comfortable, Mitchell again shifts focus; this time, we land in a 1970s-era spy thriller that references Frobisher. Why? No explanation’s given, and the narrative breaks again. Now we follow the head of a vanity publishing house through a comedy of errors leaving him imprisoned in a nursing home in our current time. Then we jump to the testimony of a human clone genetically optimized for food service, testifying her experience living in a hyper-commercialized dystopian version of future-Korea to a corporate archivist. Then we land in post-apocalyptic Hawai’i, where an elder tells his life story in orature. This narrative is the deepest in the layered intertextuality of *Cloud Atlas* – after hearing Zachary Bailey’s life story we move in reverse order back through the other half of the nesting narratives begun earlier in the novel.<br/ >

Technically composed of six well-crafted novellas interlaced in unexpected ways, the weighty consequence of each narrative relies on all the others to be fully realized. *Cloud Atlas* could alternatively have been titled Frankfurt School’s Instrumental Reason: The Novel, but those with no background in Continental philosophy will still find much to love here, if they take the time. *Cloud Atlas* is highly recommended to fans of Margaret Atwood, Ursula K Le Guin or any literary science fiction. It is also recommended to any readers of literary fiction who don’t mind some serious experimentation, and who love beautifully crafted language.


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Jul 02, 2020


Oct 03, 2018

My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?

Laura_X Jun 01, 2016

I lost my balance when the train pulled away, but a human crumple zone buffered my fall. We stayed like that, half fallen. Diagonal People.


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