Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
Cloud Atlas is less a traditional novel and more a collection of inter-related short stories. The book begins as the journal of Adam Ewing, an American traveling in the Pacific near New Zealand in the mid 1800s. Ewing’s diary is subsequently discovered and read in 1930 by Robert Frobisher, an English music student who has apprenticed himself to a renowned composer. Frobisher has escaped to Belgium both to elude his creditors and pursue his musical ambitions; his story is told in letters to his friend Rufus Sixsmith. Sixsmith appears as a character in a novella set in 1970s, in which reporter Luisa Rey seeks to expose a coverup regarding to safety of a California nuclear power plant. This novella is submitted for publication in the next story to Timothy Cavendish, who comically finds himself trapped in a nursing home against his will. A film version of Cavendish’s story survives into a dystopian future, where it is watched by Sonmi 451, a genetically engineered clone made to work in a fast-food restaurant. A holographic recording of Sonmi is finally discovered by Zachry, a member of a post-apocalyptic civilization on the island of Hawaii.

What’s unique about Cloud Atlas is the arrangement of the stories; each is interrupted midway due to the circumstances of the next character. Frobisher, for example, finds half of Ewing’s diary to be missing. The stories are nested such that they resume in reverse order as the future characters discover or resume the remaining half themselves.

Mitchell plays with different narrative styles and genres, and is able to pull each of them off rather well. Some of the stories are a bit stronger than others, and I personally liked the two future stories the best. Frobisher’s story was the slowest, but may appeal to those who prefer historical fiction.

While overall a bit misanthropic, there is a feeling of hope underlying each story as well. It’s also hinted that many of the characters may in fact be the same souls reincarnated. There’s a little something for everyone in Cloud Atlas, from historical fiction to science fiction dystopia. Regardless of whether the upcoming movie is successful, the novel is definitely worth checking out.