Cloud Atlas First Discussion

Thoughts on pages 1-236 of Cloud Atlas  by David Mitchell, Random House Tradeback 2004

First, I understand that WordPress has changed their sign-in-to-comment process. I don’t really KNOW what you see if you are not a WordPress-Club-Member but do know that if Anonymous is available and you want to comment who you are instead, go for it. I hope no one has problems with the ability to leave a comment…

For those of you who enjoy the Basketball March Madness and yet ALSO LOVE BOOKS! You can play Out of Print Clothing’s BOOK MADNESS, although two rounds have been played already as I write this and likely all first rounds done by time this posts. Still, Cloud Atlas made the field!  [Do check on how your favorite book(s) are doing. I was happy so many books I’ve actually read were playing.]

Be warned; I am just jumping in and letting my fingers type whatever pops into my head as I think about this book so far. Be prepared for a bumpy ride. I will come back later and link up to other readalonger’s posts or please add in comment. Thanks.

So, has everyone figured out that this book is a sandwich of stories that are connected successively? HOW DID HE (is doing?) THIS! When I first encountered the part I shall call the “ABRUPT ENDING” of the Adam Ewing section, I thought I had found a printing error. But I was dee-lighted by the wit and humor of our dear Robert Frobisher. WOW – although, I was caught off guard for him being set in the era between the world wars – he sounded so… OscarWilde-ish?

Didn’t you wonder about his friend? The one who was receiving these incredible letters? How generous he was to send funds and help with the book sales – which on a morality bent, what a scum for selling off books that didn’t belong to him. But I still found Robert Frobisher fascinating. He was/is my favorite character so far. Just saying out loud “Robert Frobisher” is fun. “Rufus Sixsmith” is fun to say, too.

And then we meet Rufus!  It is appropriate that I refer to these interlacing parts ‘sections’, yes?  First is the Adam Ewing section, then the Frobisher Zedelghem section, then Luisa Rey/Rufus Sixsmith section. (What a jarring violent thriller of a section that was.)

I cried when we met Javi on page 98. I have a feeling we will see Javi again even if that section and its later reference in the old guy’s incarceration section (Timothy Cavendish’s ghastly ordeal) suggests things did not end well for Ms. Rey. But I am so curious about the HALF-LIFE in the title and what the radioactivity angle will be.

Let’s discuss how each section ends. Of course the ABRUPT ENDING of the Adam Ewing section was noted by the reader AND Robert Frobisher in his section. [Aside – I did NOT pick up on the sinister dear doctor hooking our Adam on drugs – forehead slap! Thank you Robert Frobisher for that analysis.] But the Robert Frobisher section – perhaps because it was a letter and he signed off? I thought it a gentle break before starting the Luisa Ray section. Maybe it was also the happiness of meeting Rufus Sixsmith so it felt only a disruption in time and not necessarily and odd jump into Who-Knows-What. Which is what happened for me when we meet Timothy Cavendish. Of course Luisa’s car getting bumped off a cliff is appropriately called a cliff-hanger, yes?

And then we meet Sonmi-451. It was at this point that I actually stopped and read some more synopsis of Cloud Atlas per reviews,miscellaneous online reading guides and my own introduction post (which I skimmed, I really didn’t want to know ANYTHING going into this.) Mr. Mitchell goes all SciFi and dystopian on us, huh?!

I had to look up ORISON in the dictionary. New word for me. (means PRAYER, if you didn’t see my vocab post –> here <–.)

I did not care for Ms Sonmi-45; she lacked personality but I was amazed out the author’s ability to portray her like that. Or do you disagree? Does Sonmi have a personality; does she grow to have a personality? I actually wondered at times if she was a she.

WHAT ABOUT that birthmark?  I swear it was in mentioned in the Adam Ewing section but I still haven’t found it. I tweeted to the #CloudAltas readalongers to watch and note pages. (which I can’t find now where I wrote these page numbers down. Get back to you? Is it even important?!)

p.85 “She plays with that birthmark in the hollow of my shoulder, the one you said resembles a comet – can’t abide the woman dabbling with my skin. – Zedelghem section.

ANYWAYS!  I read somewhere that Mitchell even stated in an interview that the birthmark suggests that all these characters are reincarnations of the same soul!!!! or something like that. From my memory. (ever play ‘telephone’?) SO let me go see if I can find it.

Mitchell has said of the book: “All of the [leading] characters are reincarnations of the same soul … identified by a birthmark. … The “cloud” refers to the ever-changing manifestations of the “atlas”, which is the fixed human nature. … The book’s theme is predacity … individuals prey on individuals, groups on groups, nations on nations.”[2] BBC Radio 4. 2007-06. Retrieved 2008-04-19.

I had to look up PREDACITY, too. Even if it is kinda easy to guess the meaning, but I think it is NEW to me:
HHHpre·da·cious also pre·da·ceous (pr-dshs) adj.
HHHHHH1. Living by seizing or taking prey; predatory.
HHHHHH2. Given to victimizing, plundering, or destroying for one’s own gain

Alright Friends and Readalongers!  Discuss:

Are you enjoying it so far?

Can’t wait to begin the second ‘half’?

Fearful of reading more Adam Ewing?!

Picked up on any other themes or symbols?

The Sonmi section has some amazing wordplay, would you agree?

Are we having fun yet?

Was I really the only one to notice the birthmark thread in the stories before I read that quote above?

What else do you want to discuss that I should ask?

I must admit, I do love the twittering and encourage anyone to see my list and search hashtag #CloudAtlas, but do realize that we are not the only ones discussing the book so far. And let me know if you want to be on the list – I may not have realized you tweet? Sorry to miss anyone.

Oh!  I’ll end with a share of favorite sentences encountered so far:

p.94 “Forgive me for flaunting my experience, but you have no conception of what a misspent life constitutes.”

p.168 “I elbowed my way into the grubby cafe, bought a pie that tasted of shoe polish and a pot of tea with cork crumbs floating in it, and eavesdropped on a pair of Shetland pony breeders.  Despondency makes one hanker after lives one never led.” 

p.60 “He whispers the verses as I recite, as if his voice is leaning on mine.” 

p.159 “I want you to evolve problem-solving intelligence and sell me a ticket to Hull!” 

p.64 “A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.”


Copyright © 2007-2012. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

21 thoughts on “Cloud Atlas First Discussion

  1. I am very much enjoying it so far, but I can see where it might have frustrated other readers. I hope the payoff is worth it, but I think that this is a book that requires faith and patience to finish. Which leads me to my next answer, I CANNOT WAIT to begin (finish actually) the second half. I love how each story touches the next and how the writing and storytelling changes in each section.
    Now that I have read up to “Crossin’ Soolosha”, I am no longer afraid for Adam Ewing or Luisa Rey or Timothy Cavendish. I feel like whatever happens, has already happened; I have gone all Zen on it.
    Like the Sonmi-451 and the Letters from Zedelhem sections best. I don’t see her as cold. I like her a lot. And yes, that section really does have some fun wordplay. It took me a while to realize she “worked” at McDonalds. I did not even bother to look up the word Orison; so glad you did, I just assumed he made it up!
    I noticed the birthmark too in “Letters from Zedelhem”, The 1st Luisa Rey Mystery” and “Orison of Sonmi-451”. I thought it might indicate re-incarnation.
    I think there are a few overriding themes such as racism and slavery, man’s capacity for inhumanity… as evidenced by your retrieved interview. But what is the final verdict? Is there hope for us as humans?

    1. “I have gone all Zen on it.” LOL!

      I am liking it and am amazed how the stories link together at the same time I wonder how it will all pull together, ifyouknowwhatImean.

      Yea, the McDonalds thing was a sudden realization. OH YEA! Of course.

      You DID note the birthmark and in which stories! We had quite a discussion on Twitter about whether or not it has been mentioned in each section.

      SO you think Luisa is still alive?! I was so sad for Rufus. DARN those unfeeling extremely competent professional hitmen.

  2. I think she might have survived…then again, Rufus sent the manuscript to her office…so maybe she didn’t. This is the only chapter that didn’t really work for me. I liked the characthers, but maybe because I know there is no Buenas Yerbas in California, maybe because I was alive and in California during the 70’s. So it is harder for me to “pretend” it is real. The only So Cal nuclear power plant that I am aware of is San Onofre, near San Diego. If it had melted down…well I wouldn’t be here typing, probably.

    I wonder if the birthmark was NOT in the Adam Ewing section, maybe we will encounter it on the way back? I do like how the book is structured, like you have to climb the mountain in order to enjoy the downhill part.

    1. Ha – I actually google-mapped Buenas Yerbas when I read about the International Airport!

      Now, my mind is filling in holes that it shouldn’t because I swear I read about the birthmark IN EVERY SECTION – I must be wrong. I am resisting re-reading it to find out.

      Great analogy! ==> book structure is like climbing up and back down a mountain.

  3. 1. Did you see my tweet about the movie?! With Tom Hanks?
    1.a. Your twitter list made me realize how much I tweet. Oops!

    2. I wondered about the reincarnation at some level. I’ll be interested to see how all these folks come together.

    3. Predatory huh?! Interesting!!

    Ok, now your questions:

    Are you enjoying it so far?

    **YES!! It’s a slow book but so intriguing.

    Can’t wait to begin the second ‘half’?

    **NO!! Can’t wait!! I actually think we should have stopped after the next section since it’s the last before we start working through all the narratives again. I can’t wait to see how Orison fits into the next section!

    Fearful of reading more Adam Ewing?!

    **YES!! Adam Ewing = Boring. 😉

    Picked up on any other themes or symbols?

    **NO!! Mostly just the clouds and the birthmarks.

    The Sonmi section has some amazing wordplay, would you agree?

    **YES!! Think Papa Song is like McDonalds?! I also wondered about Sonmi’s gender as well until Sisters was mentioned. I’m not a fan of science-fiction, though, as it makes me think too hard. 😉

    Are we having fun yet?

    YES!! I especially love the random tweets with everyone. Need more people joining in!

    Was I really the only one to notice the birthmark thread in the stories before I read that quote above?

    Only because you got there first. 😛 Also, the other two pages I marked are 122 (Louisa) and 198 (Somni). Maybe the other sections don’t have yet as no female characters?

    What else do you want to discuss that I should ask?


    1. erp… I was really expecting my questions to be a list to answer but more of OK!-WHAT-TO-ASK?! plea. 😀

      I’m still not sure about the reincarnation angle. Will have to wait and see.

      I actually enjoyed the Adam Section once I got past the dismay of all the words to define.

  4. How did it get to be the 15th??? Urgh. Going to try to write a post on part 1 this weekend. In the meantime:

    Are you enjoying it so far? With the exception of Adam E., I loved the first half. Even Sonmi, until the last few pages. Then I felt manipulated.

    Can’t wait to begin the second ‘half’? I’m afraid I already have. The airport, you know…it’s a good place to get some serious reading done.

    Fearful of reading more Adam Ewing?! Yes, especially since I know he’s going to end the book (the narrators go in reverse order in the second half). Not sure I want him to be the ending.

    Picked up on any other themes or symbols? Just the clouds and reincarnation. And souls.

    The Sonmi section has some amazing wordplay, would you agree? I’m afraid I didn’t notice. Bad softdrink!

    Are we having fun yet? You betcha.

    Was I really the only one to notice the birthmark thread in the stories before I read that quote above? I noticed, but I was looking since you gave me a heads up. I didn’t find it in Adam’s section, though. But it got more blatant as the stories progressed. At least, I thought so.

    What else do you want to discuss that I should ask? Did you notice that the position of the clouds changes on the pages from section to section? At least in my edition…there is a little cloud at the top of each page.

    1. No, I did not mention the cloud positions between sections! foreheaddesk. But I notice the same technique is going on in 1Q84.

      I am actually not sure WHAT the clouds are doing or symbolizing. I will have to think more on it. I did check out a memoir of a cloud-loving meteorologist, tho. How’s THAT for geekiness?

      LOVEd your first-half recap!

  5. Thanks for hosting this section Care! I hadn’t read any interviews with the author, so I love hearing that he intended the birthmark as a possible reincarnation thing, because that’s how I interpreted it. I wrote that in my post, but thought maybe it was just in my head.

    Somehow I completely missed the fact that Somni worked in a McDonalds. I pictured it as a cafeteria style place. Funny.

    I really l wanted to know more about Javi’s story too and I hope you’re right about him reappearing in the later sections.

    Are you enjoying it so far?
    I really am and I can’t think of a better book for a readalong discussion. There’s so much going on!

    Can’t wait to begin the second ‘half’?
    I couldn’t wait. I finished the Sloosha section.

    Fearful of reading more Adam Ewing?!
    Yes!!! I couldn’t stand his section.

    -birthmark thread?
    I actually did notice that, though I missed a lot of other things. I thought the birthmark thing was such an interesting way to tie the stories together.

    What else do you want to discuss that I should ask?
    I was fascinated by the characters he picked to head each section. They are so different! I also think the structure of the book is crazy. I think if I reread it one day, it would be cool to read the first section of each story and then jump straight the the second half of that same story and read it.

    I can’t wait to see where he takes us next!

    Here are my comments on the first half…

  6. Are you enjoying it so far?
    I am – I am loving it. I hope that comes across in my post, because I wasn’t able to come up with much of more substance than “wow. wow. again, wow.”

    Can’t wait to begin the second ‘half’? Yes!

    Fearful of reading more Adam Ewing?!
    You know, a little. After the first section the novel became such easy reading – glancing over the start of the second “half”, I’m kind of hesitant to see what’s coming my way.

    Was I really the only one to notice the birthmark thread in the stories before I read that quote above?
    I don’t think the birthmark thing came up in Ewing’s section – but in the rest, yeah, it became a pretty standout image.

    My post is up at

    1. I admit I was forewarned about the birthmark when I started poking around for reading guide questions but then, like you say, it was standing out.

  7. I’m really enjoying it. It’s my second time reading it, and while I loved it the first time, it’s even better the second time noticing more.

    I’m not too worried about Adam Ewing. I don’t remember the second half being as tedious. We’ll see when I get there.

    It’s been really fun watching everyone’s reactions on twitter in real time. It’s fun to see other people experience the book for the first time. I remember doing the same thing when I finished the Adam Ewing section the first time. I was certain that I was missing a page or something, then after flipping through the book and noticing the headlines I was relieved.

    It’s funny that you mention the Frobisher section feeling Oscar Wilde-ish. Did you catch the Dorian Gray reference (on page 74 in mine)? It made me laugh. “…that warty old Shylock looks more repulsive every time I clap eyes on him. Has he got a magical portrait of himself stashed in his attic, getting more beautiful by the year?” I really enjoyed most of the sections, but Frobisher was my favorite. So witty the way he writes.

    1. I agree! Frobisher’s ability to write about his comings and goings was so entertaining! I don’t think I caught that Dorian Gray reference, but maybe? I DO know the story so I should have.

      I didn’t even think to look at the chapter titles but that is because I didn’t yet realize the book’s structure. melissa had told me to keep going and I was so loving the Zedelghem section and then it mentioned Adam’s journals and then… OH. Too funny. Also right abt the time we all started our twitter chatter.

      Which I am hoping we can start again soon with chatter about Sloosha. I am almost done with the section, in between cleaning things.

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