by David Mitchell
Cloud Atlas Introduction
In a Nutshell
There's a reason people say they "devour" books or are "hungry" for a good read. Reading is like eating. It can be warm and nourishing like a home-cooked meal, or sugary and exhilarating like washing down some dark-chocolate Raisinettes with an ice-cold glass of Pepsi.
But sometimes, you want a little bit of everything. Why be stuck with just seafood, or Chinese food, or hamburgers and hot dog when you really want a little taste of it all? No cutting in line at the Mongolian Grill, please.
When you want the same kind of sampler platter on your bookshelf, that's where Cloud Atlas comes in. This book is a multi-ethnic buffet that spans countries, time periods, and genres, everything from mystery and suspense to science fiction and back again, crossing over everything in between.
Written by David Mitchell and published in 2004 to incredible acclaim, including the Man Booker prize shortlist (source), Cloud Atlas follows six different narrators on an epic journey that spans centuries. You've never read a book that starts with a mid-19th-century journey by boat through the South Pacific, travels to a high-tech Korea hundreds of years in the future, and somehow makes it back to where it started.
If you take a post-apocalyptic world, put it inside The Matrix, watch it get swallowed by Moby-Dick, and spice it up with a few other books and movies that don't start with M, you'll have Cloud Atlas. It's pretty much literary turducken. How does that whet your reading appetite?
If that isn't enough to make you hungry for a thick, juicy read, how about this? Released in October 2012, the film adaptation united visionary writers/directors Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) for the most expensive independent film ever produced (source). Not only that, but it features an all-star cast, including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter's Professor Slughorn, for all you Muggles out there), and Susan Sarandon, each playing multiple characters of different ethnicities and genders. Our mind = blown. The film divided critics, but the fact that Tykwer and the Wachowskis managed to streamline this monster of a book into a three-hour film is remarkable, given that each of the book's six interconnecting stories could make a full-length movie on its own.
However, the movie is just an appetizer. The novel is a six-course meal, including a dessert with a rich and creamy center. We're pretty sure you'll be stuffed to the brim after your Cloud Atlas buffet, but it's so good, you might want to go back for seconds.
Why Should I Care?
We've all felt totally helpless sometimes. Whether you're trying as hard as you can in school and keep coming up with Bs, or practicing really hard but still can't make the team, or volunteering at the library even though you know someone is going to put the books back in the wrong place eventually, you know how tough things can be.
Don't give up. Cloud Atlas shows us that every deed has a consequence. We always hear about the consequences of bad deeds (and Cloud Atlas has plenty of those), but what about the good ones? Although you may not see the results of your good deeds, they're there. The good deeds make little ripples throughout time and will help someone else somewhere down the line.
Reading Cloud Atlas makes you take a closer look at your actions. By doing so, you might feel better about the good that you do, whether you can see the benefits or not. Well, unless you're a dirty snake, that is. Then you'll probably feel mighty guilty about all the harm you've done and want to change your ways. Either way, read the book, and feel like you're a part of something big.