Study Guide

Cloud Atlas Part 5: An Orison of Sonmi-451

By David Mitchell

Part 5: An Orison of Sonmi-451

  • This section is an interview—more like an interrogation at times—between a man only called Archivist, and Sonmi-451. This is her final interview.
  • Sonmi is a server at Papa Song's. Her life is devoted to her customers. Every day is the same.
  • At the end of each day, Sonmi and her fellow servers imbibe a Soapsac and fall asleep. Lather, rinse, repeat, indeed.
  • Every year, each server is bestowed a star by Seer Rhee. The Twelvestarred sisters are taken to Papa Song's Ark for Xultation—a glorious retirement on beautiful Hawaiian beaches.
  • The Archivist changes the topic of conversation to "the infamous Yoona-939" (5.1.15).
  • Yoona was an ascending fabricant, like Sonmi, acquiring new language and thoughts beyond typical fabricants.
  • One day, Yoona-939 taught Sonmi the word "secret." She showed Sonmi Seer Rhee, who would get drunk on Soap and show her foreign objects like flashlights and pictures books full of fairy tales.
  • Sonmi dreamed of life beyond Papa Song's elevator.
  • Yoona did, too. One day, she took a child from a birthday party—Sonmi says that "elevators do not function without a Soul onboard" (5.1.67)—and escaped. Her escape didn't last long, however. She was caught, the elevator descended back into Papa Song's, and Sonmi saw Yoona-939's bloody, bullet-riddled body.
  • Yoona-939 was replaced with a new Yoona, and life continued as normal, ad nauseam.
  • As Sonmi tells the Archivist about her days, she mentions her comet-shaped birthmark. We've seen that before.
  • Sonmi then tells us of her own ascension. "First, a voice spoke in my head" (5.1.101). Then her language increased, and her curiosity for knowledge became insatiable.
  • One morning, Sonmi awakes to the sound of breaking glass. She finds Seer Rhee, who had overdosed on Soap. She assumes it was suicide.
  • When the sun rises, none of her sisters wake up as they normally do. Instead, a man named Chang comes in and introduces himself to Sonmi.
  • Chang takes Sonmi away from Papa Song's, and she sees the outside world for the first time.
  • After taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells of the city, Sonmi is taken to Mount Taemosan, a University.
  • There, Sonmi is put into the care of a dirty disgusting grad student named Boom-Sook Kim. We use the term "care" loosely.
  • Boom-Sook leaves her alone for long periods of time and forbids her to do anything.
  • On the second day, a fabricant named Wing-027 brings Sonmi a sony "preloaded with every autodidact module in upstrata corpocracy schooling" (5.1.163). In other words, this is what the upper-class use to teach themselves anything and everything.
  • Wing-027 warns Sonmi not to let a pureblood catch her using it. "The sight [of a fabricant gathering knowledge] scares them, and there is nothing a scared pureblood will not do" (5.1.163).
  • Over the next nine months, Sonmi lives a life relatively ignored by Boom-Sook, gathering knowledge when he's gone.
  • Sonmi overhears another student, Hae-Soo Im, say that Wing-027 was killed by an experiment done on him by his undergrad. Boom-Sook finds this hysterical. "Hae-Joo then did an unusual action: he looked at [Sonmi]" (5.1.181). In this world, that would be like looking at your Roomba to see how it reacts after you break your cellphone.
  • On Sextet Eve, which seems to be like New Year's Eve, Boom-Sook and his friends are drinking, watching porn, and shooting fruit off Sonmi's head with a crossbow (Katniss he is not), with no regard to whether she lives or dies.
  • The debauchery is stopped when a man named Boardman Mephi comes in. He expels Boom-Sook and takes Sonmi away to much fancier new quarters.
  • Sonmi is told that, as a stable, ascended fabricant, she is a very big deal. Mephi hopes to perform tests—promising they would not be "onerous or painful" (5.1.240)—and auction off research access to her to raise lots of money for the school.
  • The benefits to Sonmi: a Soul (pretty much a glorified wallet) implanted in her collar, and full access to university classes.
  • Unfortunately, due to rude students and invasive media, Sonmi has to take her classes remotely.
  • Sonmi remarks that "knowledge without xperience [is] food without sustenance [sic]" (5.1.272).
  • To provide Sonmi with experience, or "xperience," she's paired up with Hae-Joo Im to take her around town.
  • Hae-Joo takes Sonmi shopping, and even takes her to Papa Song's so she can see her old life from the outside. She tries to tell Kyelim-889 that "we are just slaves here for twelve years" (5.1.343), but the words just bounce off her.
  • One day, Hae-Joo shows Sonmi a disney (a movie) called The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish. Sounds familiar...
  • Sonmi's unable to finish the movie, though. A man named Xi-Li busts up in the theater and tells Hae-Joo that enforcers have arrived, they've arrested Professor Mephi, and now they are looking for Hae-Joo and Sonmi.
  • Like any good thriller, this one ends with a cliffhanger, as Hae-Joo says, "Sonmi-451, I am not xactly who I said I am [sic]" (5.1.378).