History: Published in 2004.
Plot: The book consists of six nested stories that take us from the remote South Pacific in the nineteenth century to a distant, post-apocalyptic future. Each tale is revealed to be a story that is read (or watched) by the main character in the next.
The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing: Pacific Ocean, circa 1850. Adam Ewing, an American notary's account of a voyage home from the remote Chatham Islands, east of New Zealand. The next character discovers this story as a diary on his patron's bookshelf.
Letters from Zedelghem: Zedelgem, Belgium, 1931. Robert Frobisher, a penniless young English musician, finds work as an amanuensis to a composer living in Belgium. This story is saved in the form of letters to his friend (and implied lover) Rufus Sixsmith, which the next character discovers after meeting Sixsmith.
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery: Buenas Yerbas, California, 1975. Luisa Rey, a journalist, investigates reports of corruption and murder at a nuclear power plant. The next character is sent this story in the mail, in the form of a manuscript for a novel .
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish: United Kingdom, early 21st century. Timothy Cavendish, a vanity press publisher, flees the brothers of his gangster client. He gets confined against his will in a nursing home from which he cannot escape. The next character watches a movie dramatisation of this story.
An Orison of Sonmi~451: Nea So Copros (Korea), dystopian near future. Sonmi~451, a genetically-engineered fabricant server at Papa Song's diner, is interviewed before her execution after she rebels against the society that created and exploited her kind. The next character watches Sonmi's story projected holographically in an "orison," a futuristic recording device.
Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After: Hawaii, post-apocalyptic distant future. Zach'ry, a tribesman living a primitive life after most of humanity dies during "the fall," is visited by Meronym, a member of the last remnants of technologically-advanced civilization. This story is told when the protagonist is an old man, to seemingly random strangers around a camp-fire.
Review: I listened to this book. Interesting story line in which there are 6 different scenarios, different characters have lost their sense of civility towards one another. Cloud Atlas was the name of a musical piece that was influenced by a story and then influenced other stories. I liked it and will recommend it. As for the message, well, it’s a critique of selfishness and an attempt to spur us on to live better lives in order to rid our world of it. But the main problem with the book in this department is that the six parables are so unlike the average reader’s everyday life that what is blatantly obvious justice on the page can easily go unnoticed in our realities. It is great how it starts with Adam Ewing, goes through the character changes and time changes, then back again. Robert Frobisher composed the Cloud Atlas Sextet, which consists of six nested solos arranged in the same manner as the narratives in Cloud Atlas. Mitchell has noted that the characters Robert Frobisher and Vyvyan Ayrs were (very) loosely inspired by Eric Fenby and Frederick Delius.
Opening Line: The pacific journal of Adam Ewing. Thursday, the 7th of November. Beyond the Indian Hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints”
Closing Line: “Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?”
Quotes: "Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president's pen or a vainglorious general's sword."