Amy, Jessica, Heather and I are reading Cloud Atlas together. Since seeing the trailer for the movie (to be released in October in the US; unfortunately I found out last week it will only be released mid-November over here) I have finally found the courage to tackle this book. It had been on my to-be-read list for forever, but I always felt too intimidated by it to actually start reading. Amy expressed a similar interest, and soon we found ourselves in the company of Jessica and Heather too. I am infinitely glad to be reading Cloud Atlas together with other awesome and smart bloggers. Especially since this book lends itself for discussion and group support so well.
Jessica previously posted on the first two sections of the book (the first halves of ”The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing” & “Letters from Zedelghem”); Amy followed with a post on sections three and four (the first halves of “Half-Lives – The First Luisa Rey Mystery” & “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish”). I fell behind on my reading and so last Saturday found me catching up with both sections 3 and four, as well as sections five and six. I admit that this chunk of reading time devoted to the book worked really well for me. I quickly got into a rhythm and I basically couldn’t stop reading. Where the first two sections left me a little hesitant about this book, sections 3, 5, and 6 too convinced me that this book is so clever and very-near-perfect.
Below you’ll find a discussion of sections five and six, meaning the first half of “An Orison of Somni-451″ and “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After”. Warning: Spoilers throughout the parts we’ve covered of the book thus far; i.e. up to page 325. We’d prefer it if any comments left of this post won’t spoil us for what’s to come as part of the book’s strength is, I think, discovering what it is about on our own.
An Orison of Sonmi-451
Next to Luisa Rey, this may be my favourite part of the book thus far. I love how through the interview between “the Archivist” and Sonmi 451 we slowly uncover her dystopian world and the role she has in it. Plus, she’s a very sympathetic character, taking the reader on a journey from the unknown to the known, just as she goes from naive, to learned, to what I assume will result in a full-fledged social criticism.
I’m starting to appreciate the intertextuality of this work more and more. Both in how each story is referred to, and judged, in the next and in how other texts, music, and movies are cross-referenced. I especially appreciate how each section is then found in the next in some other form of “story”: a diary, letters, a manuscript for a novel, and now a movie. I admit I was intrigued by that, even more so when it comes to the form in which the Orison of Sonmi reappears. Religion as text, meaningmaking as text, it all seems very appropriate and fitting for what this book as a whole is trying to do.
Another thing that stood out to me in this section is how it discusses individuality versus “group membership”. Sonmi comes from a line of similar clones, and because “purebloods” get to think of her as only part of a group and copies of each other without a soul, they are able to oppress her. But this worldview is challenged as Sonmi gets the chance to express her individuality. Yes, very interesting, and I think a theme that recurs throughout the novel.
Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After
Okay, so I think the first thing we obviously need to discuss is the accent. Did it drive anyone else insane? Admittedly, it got better with time, and I appreciate the story enough to push myself to continue reading (and even enjoy it), but for the first 10 or twenty pages I just wanted the accent to go away. I even found myself thinking that I was very tempted to skip over the whole section. Whereas I appreciate the different styles of each section, and even liked how in Sonmi’s section ex becomes x in every word which gives a distinct ring to her vocabulary, the use of distinct vocabulary in Sloosha might have been toned down to make it a little easier on the eyes. Nevertheless, I find I have so much to say about this section.
Did anyone else feel a little puzzled about at what moment in time we were supposed to be? I was wondering if perhaps we were back to a time before section 1. In the end, of course, we learn that this is a world “after the fall”, i.e. time has progressed. With this, Mitchell gives us an almost cyclical worldview (enhanced by the suggested reincarnation narratives). I felt myself to confront, the apparently still inherent, supposition that as times move forward we do, i.e. “civilisation” does. Very well done, Mitchell. Even if it leaves me a little ashamed of my own hidden suppositions.
I also appreciated how this section again confronted collectivity vs. individuality, and the predicates of “civilised” vs. “savage”, “smart” vs. “nature”, etcetera. At the very end, for example, in the following discussion:
Questions was mozzyin’ me plaguesome. The fires o’ the Valleysmen an’ Prescients both are snuffed tonight, I speaked, so don’t that proof savages are stronger’n civ’lized people?
It ain’t savages what are stronger’n civ’lizeds, Meronym reck’ned, it’s big numbers what’re stronger’n small numbers. Smart gived us a plus back at Slopin’ Pond, but with ’nuff hands’n'minds that plus’ll be zeroed one day.
So, I asked ‘gain, is it better to be savage’n to be Civ’lized?
List’n, savages an’ Civ’lizeds ain’t divvied by tribes or b’liefs or mountain ranges nay, ev’ry human is both, yay. Old’uns’d got the Smart o’ gods but the savagery o’ jackals an’ that’s what tripped the Fall. Some savages what I knowed got a beautsome Civ’lized heart beatin’ in their ribs. Maybe some Kona. Not ’nuff to say-so their hole tribe, but who knows one day? One day.
I especially appreciated how Sloosha’s section intertwined the ideas of anthropology, knowledge of other people, making that knowledge available in a language these people cannot read themselves, and the intertwinement with colonisation and power. This to me adds to the cyclical feel of the story as Adam Ewing’s story is also one that confronts colonisation and “savageness” vs. “civilisation” narratives.
Was anyone surprised by what form Sonmi’s story took in this story? The form of belief for Zachry, the form of recorded life-narrative for Meronym. Very interesting. The first time I heard Zachry mention Sonmi as his God, I instantly thought of Sonmi 451, but I was never quite sure if we were meant to understand it as such before it was explained.
Dis anyone go into section 6 thinking that now, finally, everything become clear? I kind of did. Of course, that hope was futile, but I did feel that so many lines came together in this section (though I’m still not sure how exactly they’re supposed to fit together).
So.. Cloud Atlas appeared in Sloosha’s Crossing:
“Souls cross the skies o’ time, Abbess’d say, like clouds crossin’ skies o’the world. Sonmi’s the east’n'west, Sonmi’s the map an’ the edges o’the map an’ býonder the edges.”
Another reincarnation hint, right?
I’d love to see some sort of table on who is reincarnated as who. We know that Frobisher, Luisa, Sonmi and Meronym share a birthmark. Is there anyone I missed (as there are 2 more sections I’m sure to have missed someone)? Are they really the same people? For I feel they develop as well (though I did feel a certain sympathy between the three ladies, but perhaps that’s my own reading-into-things). Also, I’m wondering if any of the other characters are somehow each other? How do we find out/are we supposed to find out/am I reading too much into this?
Generally, I think you can say this book scetches a pretty pessimist worldview of our life’s now, and historically. Power and domination, oppression and violence all play a big part in this story. And you just know that Meronym as quoted above “Old’uns’d got the Smart o’ gods but the savagery o’ jackals an’ that’s what tripped the Fall.” is talking about us. I also wonder if there’s environmental criticism in there, with the nuclear power plant, and the lands that are dead in the times of Sonmi and Zachry?
Now that we know how the stories relate to each other, each section finding the other “text” and commenting on it, I’m rather curious how it will work in the ascent of time. Perhaps the last paragraph of Sloosha’s Crossing provides a hint as they move back from Zachry to Sonmi? [Interesting how section 6 probably isn't going to be commented upon in the other texts, but is instead reviewed by the listeners Zachry is "yarning" to.] Do you think we’ll find out more about how all these stories interrelate, and the themes meant to be discovered? Or was Sloosha really the climax of the piece? I’m not sure how to view the upcoming sections, though I am curious about how all of these stories will end in itself.