Study Guide

Cloud Atlas

By David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas Introduction

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.

What is Cloud Atlas About and 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.

Cloud Atlas Resources

Websites

That Other Book of His
David Mitchell's website might be named after his 2010 novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, but it has a bit of info on Cloud Atlas, too—which is probably why you're here. Check it out, and find some other books by this great author.

Movie or TV Productions

Who's Who?
The Cloud Atlas movie features quite a few actors playing multiple roles. Where else are you going to see Halle Berry play a persistent journalist, a white adulteress, and a male Korean doctor with terrible teeth?

Lost in Adaptation
Read the book but haven't seen the movie? Seen the movie but haven't read the book? (For shame.) If you just don't have time to do both, CinemaBlend has broken down all the main differences between the book and the ambitious film.

Articles and Interviews

Role Models
In this interview with the Washington Post, David Mitchell reveals the models for some his characters.

Sharing in Nottingham
David Mitchell walked on lava "just to get a feel" of New Zealand. Now that's commitment. Read this interview and find out what else he did to gather research for Cloud Atlas.

Video

Cloud Atlas for the Short Attention Span
No time to read the book or see the movie? If you can spare five minutes, this trailer for the movie will fill you in on exactly what you're missing.

CLD TLS
Still have questions? Get a second (and third, and fourth...) opinion from THNKR TV with this short piece in their entertaining and informative BOOKD series.

Book Clubbin'
The coolest online book club ever, Sword & Lasers, discussed Cloud Atlas in their Oct. 2012 book club. Get started on the discussion in this video.

Audio

Music of Fate
Are your ears itching for a taste (or a listen, we guess) of Frobisher's Cloud Atlas Sextet? Here's how the filmmakers envision it.

Do the Worm
Listen to David Mitchell on the radio program Bookworm. Don't be greedy—take off your headphones, crank up your speakers, and share it.

Images

Mr. and Mrs. Smith
In the Cloud Atlas movie, the "big bad" of each section is played by Hugo Weaving, who played all the Mr. Smiths in the Wachowskis other smash hit, The Matrix. He even plays Nurse Noakes. If you've ever wanted to see Elrond, lord of Rivendell, in a blouse and skirt (again), here you go.

Cloudy Day and Clear Sky
The US and UK covers of Cloud Atlas are different. Which do you prefer? How do you think each one reflects the themes of the novel?

What a Concept
io9 shows us some concept art of Neo-Seoul, the film version of Sonmi's Nea So Copros. Move over Blade Runner. If we have to choose an Asian-inspired futuristic dystopia, we're moving here. Does it match your vision?