|Pic Source: goodreads.com|
Title credit to Dave Eggers's cover quote
I finished the behemoth Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Behemoth not so much because of its length, it is not near the longest book I've read, but behemoth because of its complexity. This is not a book for everyone, but if you are a reader looking for a challenge, pick up Cloud Atlas.
Cloud Atlas is a timeline. We are treated to the first half of five different stories, taking place in chronological order starting in the 19th century and leading into a future we have not yet encountered. Each past story appears in the next, as history is wont to do. However, these links of one story within the next hint at something more than simply a historical timeline...a more connected presence of the characters and circumstances within the timeline. The collection of these hints and their connections and possibilities are what make Cloud Atlas such a challenge. The five stories lead, in chronological order, to a sixth story, which is the forsaken future of fallen humanity. And then the five stories count down counterclockwise, finishing off the second half of each, until we are back in the 19th century with a most apparent theme, tied together and strengthened with each story: "...one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. Yes, the Devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction" (Mitchell 508). Indeed, in each story, selfishness of some people sets out to destroy the lives of others.
And is that it? Is mankind doomed to extinguish itself? I have a suggestion that you will rarely hear me make emphatically: Watch the movie. Read the book FIRST, but definitely watch the movie afterward. The movie stays pretty true to the stories, but I love it for the wonderful way it visually represents the main ideas/themes of Cloud Atlas. There are a limited number of actors and actresses who show up as a different character within each of the six stories. Paying attention to which characters each actor or actress plays allows the viewer to see the connection between the characters in the stories.
Another beautiful thing about the movie is the way in which the stories are represented and connected. Unlike the book, the stories are chopped into smaller sections and rotate through each, repeating, until all stories conclude. At first it was somewhat confusing (this is why reading the book first is best, it kept me from being completely lost); however, I soon began to see the connections between the stories that I could not see as clearly when I read the book. With overlapping narration as one story melts into the next, I saw how Adam Ewing's situation in the 19th century story was connected to Somni's hundreds of years in the future.
There are also sections of the text that are rewritten more fluidly and concisely in the movie, allowing the ultimate meaning to shine through and add yet another layer of meaning, such as this excerpt:
"Belief, like fear or love, is a force to be understood as we understand the theory of relativity and principles of uncertainty; phenomenon that determines the course of our lives. Yesterday, my life was headed in one direction. Today it is headed in another. Yesterday I believe I would never have done what I did today. These forces that often remake time and space, that can shape and alter who we imagine ourselves to be, begin long before we are born and continue after we perish. Our lives and our choices, like quantum trajectories, are understood moment to moment. At each point of intersection, each encounter suggests a new potential direction."
The ultimate thought behind it all: "Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future."
There is more, sitting at the edge of my mind, just out of reach. I know I will hit publish on this post and wake up tomorrow bursting with more insight. But, at some point, you just have to read, watch, and gather the epiphanies for yourself. This is definitely a book made for careful consideration and discussion.
Any reads blow your mind lately?