Cloud Atlas written by David Mitchell is a book which has six interconnected stories starting from nineteenth century from South Pacific to end in a primitive period in Hawaii. Each tale is complete by itself but there is some link to the next story especially in the appearance of characters. The plot in the story varies as does the language. This book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2004. David Stephen Mitchell is an English Novelist. He has published seven novels of which Cloud of Atlas is one. He published his first novel, Ghost Written, in 1999 and he won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for this. Since then he has been writing many novels and short stories. In 2012 Cloud Atlas was made into a film. There is travel in most of his books and his styles of bringing in many stories into one novel with a connecting aspect, is seen from his first novel.
There are six stories, but it is not a compilation of six different short stories. It is a novel with six different plots and generally one character from the previous story walks into the next one. There are two parts for each story. But the second parts of all the stories come only after all the first parts are completed. For instance the second part of The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing comes after the first part of the sixth story Sloosha Cross and Everything After. The sixth story alone is not interrupted and is complete in its first part. The order of the secon d part is reversed. So the second part of he frst plot comes as last and at the end of the novel. The six plots which is treated as almost six stories are The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, Letters from Zedelghem, Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery, The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, An Orison of Sonmi~451, Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After.
The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (Part 1&2)
The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing starts at Chatham Islands and it is mid-nineteenth century. Adam Ewing is a naïve American notary who hails from San Francisco. That was the period of the California Gold Rush and their ship Prophetess was being repaired at the Chatham Islands. During his stay Adam Ewing witnesses the flogging of a Moriori slave by a Maori overseer and becomes a little sad and feels sad for the slave but there was little he could do. The victim catches the look of pity in Adam’s eyes and is pleased. The exciting part comes when Ewing climbs the Conical Tor and stumbles into the crater. He comes out of it quickly but not without bruises. More horrifying was the sight of faces carved on the trees and he exclaims “Only the inanimate may be so alive”. That terrifying sight in fact impelled him to put all efforts to move out of the crater.
Soon the ship gets underway and Dr. Goose who had examined his injuries in the only friend aboard. Ewing mentions about his chronic aliment to Dr. Goose and the doctor gives him some medicine. As the ship moves away Autua, the flogged Maori slave is found stowed away in Ewing’s cabin and Ewing is petrified. Autua tells him “My name is Autua,”, “You know I, you seen I, aye–you pity I.” Seeing the pity in the eyes of Ewing, Autua decides that Ewing would help him. Ewing breaks the news to the captain of the ship and manages to save Autua. Autua proves to be an excellent seaman and Autua is employed to work in the ship. With this ends the first part.
In the second part Ewing visits the island of Raiatea and he is shocked to see the missionaries tyrannizing the natives. Meanwhile his illness is getting worse in spite of the medicines and he realises that Dr. Goose is poisoning him to take away his wealth. He is rescued by Autua and Ewing decides the abolitionist movement. Abolitionist movement was against slavery. Since this is the last part of the novel David Mitchell through the words of Adam Ewing says the world evolves as a result of the vicious and virtuous acts base on belief but “a purely predatory world shall consume itself”. He tells his father-in-law that he has joined the movement which is met with contempt. He says that his efforts will be one drop in the vast ocean. Nevertheless Adam Ewing concludes on a positive note “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”
Letters from Zedelghem ( Part 1 & 2)
The second story happens in Zedelghem in 1931. Zedelghem is near Burges, Belgium. The first story was in the form of a diary and this is in the form of letters. The letters are written by Robert Frobisher to his lover and friend Rufus Sixsmith. Frobisher is a penniless fellow who travels to Zedelghem to be an assistant of sorts to the music composer Vyvyan Ayrs who was old, suffering from syphilis and was nearly blind. Ayrs likes Frobisher after initial apprehensions and then both try to create some good music. Jocasta, wife of Ayrs, also likes him but she is as her husband describes her “She isn’t a very faithful woman. Maritally, I mean”. So as her husband believes Jocasta and Frobisher have an affair not so much so out of love for Frobisher was young and Jocasta was quite old. Ayrs and Jocasta have a pretty daughter Eva who does not like Frobisher. She goes for three months from Burges. When things get a little difficult and Frobisher plans to leave both husband and wife ask him to stay – husband wants to create more music with him and claim it his own and wife tells him to stay back “giving Vyvyan his music back”. And Frobisher decides to stay back till the next summer.
Frobisher stays and works with Ayrs and Eva comes back after three months a changed person. She is kind to everyone and Frobisher falls in love with her. Jocasta sniffs the love and blackmails Frobisher. Just as he denied his affair with Jocasta to Ayrs he denies his love for Eva to Jocasta. Eva also is coy with Frobisher but there are no love exchanges. Slowly Ayrs is also had enough of Frobisher and he leaves their home and stays in a hotel nearby hoping one day Eva will come to him. He continues his work on Cloud Atlas Sextet in the hotel. When he finally meets Eva she is with a young man who is her fiancé. For Frobisher this was too much to bear and erelong commits suicide. Rufus Sixsmith comes in search of him but Frobisher avoids him and soon takes his life. Before taking his life he writes his last letter to Sixsmith and tells him that he saw him. Frobisher wrote “Don’t let ’em say I killed myself for love, Sixsmith, that would be too ridiculous.” He leaves his musical composition and The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing to Rufus before leaving the world.
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (Part 1 & 2)
The third plot of novel is Half Lives : The First Luisa Rey Mystery which is a mystery thriller set in Beunas Yerbas a fictional place in California and the year is 1970. Luisa Rey is an investigative journalist and she befriends Rufus Sixsmith in an elevator. They spend around ninety minutes in the lift as it stops midway. They talk about each other and at the end of the conversation Lisa feels that she had known Rufus for a long time. Rufus too shares his fears about the safety of the Seaboard HYDRA nuclear power plant, a secret very close to his heart. Soon after Sixsmith is killed Luisa understands that it was the because of the secret known to Sixsmith about the nuclear project and the fact that he was ready to bring it out into the open.
After the death of Sixsmith Luisa follows up the case and there are many attempts on her life. She manages to escape all of them and manages to expose the officials of Seaboard HYDRA nuclear power plant. Rufus Sixsmith is the same character to whom Robert Frobisher had written letters. The letters finally reaches the hands of Luisa. Luisa feels that she is the reincarnation of Robert Frobisher. Before death, in his last letter he writes that he might be reborn and Luisa feels that she is the one. She has several déjà vu about Zedelghem. The story concludes with Luisa reading the last eight letters and she holds them to her nose and she wonders “Are molecules of Zedelghem Chateau, of Robert Frobisher’s hand, dormant in this paper for forty-four years, now swirling in my lungs, in my blood? Who is to say?”
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (Part 1 & 2)
This is the fourth story and reading the title one would expect a story full of problems and sorrow. On the contrary it is one story which has a comic tone even though Timothy Cavendish goes through ordeals. The story is set in Britain and Timothy Cavendish is sixty-five years old. He is a publisher and as the story opens he is enjoying his job and one of his books has high sales. A murder critic was murdered and this only boosted the sale of his book Knuckle Sandwich. However not many are happy with the high sales and there are some men who are after him. Those gangsters are abetted by his brother who wants to take over completely. They threaten to harm him if he does not pay up the ransom money. Timothy’s brother is also exasperated because his wealthy brother does not part with his money to help him. So he plans to move Timothy into a menacing old age home. Timothy is tricked into signing the custody papers.
Timothy’s brother advises him to move into a hotel to escape from the gangsters till the financial problems are over. He signs the home custody papers thinking he was signing into the hotel. He is slightly drunk too and when he walks into the Aurora House he thinks all is well. And he sleeps blissfully in his room. But in the morning everything changes drastically. The nurse comes in, commands, even slaps Timothy and takes away his belongings for safe keeping. He is totally baffled and when he walks into the dinning are he confirms his worst fears. “The youngest guests were in their seventies. The oldest guests were three hundred plus. I had it. You probably spotted it pages ago, dear Reader. Aurora House was a nursing home for the elderly.” Now all that he has in his mind is to escape but he is caught by the security guard. The first part ends with a seizure he has in the Aurora House.
In the second part we come to understand that he does survive the seizure and is back to his normal self. Once back on his feet he plots to escape and this time round he has Ernie, Veronica and the senile Mr. Meeks to plan. They lure Mr. John Hotchkiss to leave the keys of the car vulnerable to theft and then the four of them drive away with the car but not without it shsare of mishaps and confusions. They reach a bar and celebrate but are nearly captured by Hotchkiss. They are saved by the local drinkers and they escape again. Meanwhile Mrs. Latham Mr. Cavendish’s loyal secretary has a video recording of the attack of the gangsters in their office. She blackmails the gangsters and wins the deal. With everything falling into place Mr. Timothy Cavendish is back to former life style. As all this was unfolding Mr. Timothy happesn to read first part of Half Lives but thinks it is not worth publishing. Later he obtains the second half as well and decides to publish it and even considers making it into a film. This is the link to the previous story.
An Orison of Sonmi – 451 ( Part 1 & 2)
The fifth story is set in an imaginary place called Nea So Copros an imaginary state in futuristic Korea. The characters are fabricants or clones and they are the workforce in the imaginary state in Korea. Somni -451 is the main character and the story is revealed when an interviewer talks to Somni. Somni worked in a restaurant called Papa Song, one of the largest in Nea So Copros. They are given soap at the end of the day and the lifestyle of the fabricants is completely governed by pure bloods, the natural human beings. The pureblood retards the fabricants by using chemicals. Somni such a fabricant is upset when her friend Yoona 939 is killed and then she slowly becomes a rebel questioning the role of fabricants. She soon realises there is an abolitionist group called Union and gives her more insight into the unjust social structure of Neo So Corpos. When she is enlisted by the Union she sees more of the natural world and even gets to see the film The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish. She gets to see how people are killed (dismembered) are used to make another fabricant and the dismembered parts were even used in the soap they consumed. All this disgusted her.
Sonmi -451 escapes from Papa Song and attends University. She composes a set of declaration for the fabricants listing their rights. Soon the Declarations become popular. “Every schoolchild in corpocracy knows my twelve “blasphemies” now”. All this invites her arrest. In the jail she tells her story to an archivist who is interviewing her. The whole thing is filmed and knowing this well and also knowing she will be executed and she tells her story and also shares her belief that the Union is actually run by the government to spot the rebels, so that they can be watched and controlled. Her last wish before her execution was to watch the rest of the Cavendish film and her words were “A certain disney I once began, one nite long ago in another age.”
Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rthin’ After
The final story, the sixth one, is the centre piece and is one full story in the novel. The narrator is Zachry, an old man, who narrates his story at Sloosha’s Crossin’ when he was nine years old. This is a story of the future but ironically the people are primitive. It is believed that after the apocalypse most of the world was destroyed and what remained were the primitive people. The people of Sloosha Crossin were often attacked by Kona tribe and in one such attack Zachry’s father was killed and brother was taken as a slave. When Zachry was fourteen years old he sees a vision and Sonmi comes and warns of three things. Prescients were technologically sophisticated people who came to trade with Zachry’s people. One time when they came the Prescient Chief brings one of their kind Meronym who wants to study Zachry’s people. Zachry thinks she could be a traitor. She takes on to their tribe very quickly and notes their lifestyle.
While going through the belongings of Meronym Zachry finds a silver egg called an orison which shows a holographic girl speaking a language he did not understand. Suddenly someone from the other end comes and asks for Meronym. Scared he puts back the orison. He becomes a little friendly with Meronym and they both go to Mauna Kea Mountain and busts all the myths about the mountain Zachry sees the girl and Meronym says its Somni and he realises it was she who was warning him in his dream. Somni is like a god for Prescients. After a few days, Kona tribe attacks again and Zachry and Meronym alone manage to escape. The warnings that come in his dream show up in his life during this period and he follows the warning and his life is saved. Both then escape to Maui another island to live the rest of their life. The story ends with Zachry’s son recalling his father’s stories which he says are unbelievable. He has the orison and sees the figures but does not understand anything.
The stories are of Cloud of Atlas is vastly different in its plot and language but there are no themes other than human relationships. There are many symbols each special to each story but there is one symbol, the mark on the shoulder blade which is seen on any one character in all the stories. The style of writing is varied and the plots are mostly fantasy. The first one is a diary, the second is letters, then there is an interview and the other stories are written in a regular story form. One is awe struck at the language that is created for different periods of time, future and past. The mention of the characters in the previous stories gives a link in the stories but it is only a mention and does the affect the new story in a big way.