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Cloud Atlas | [David Mitchell]

Cloud Atlas

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan's California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified "dinery server" on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation: the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other's echoes down the corridor of history.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Why we think it's Essential: This is an ingenious novel composed of six embedded stories interconnected with subtle nuance and utter finesse. Brilliant prose, sharp social criticism, and six distinct narratives combine to make this a superb listen. The varying narrations provide unique tones and voices for each story, perfectly mimicking Mitchell's writing. I'd have given Mitchell the Booker Prize for this. —Chris Doheny

Publisher's Summary

From David Mitchell, the Booker Prize nominee, award-winning writer, and one of the featured authors in Granta's Best of Young British Novelists 2003 issue, comes his highly anticipated third novel, a work of mind-bending imagination and scope.

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan's California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified "dinery server" on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilization: the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other's echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

In his captivating third novel, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre, and time to offer a meditation on humanity's dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.

This audiobook is available exclusively as an audio download!

Note to customers: The complicated format of this novel makes it seem that the audio may be cutting off before the end of a story, accompanied by a change in narrator. However, this is the author's intention, so please continue to listen, and the stories will conclude themselves as intended.

©2004 David Mitchell; (P)2004 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

  • 2005 Audie Award Nominee, Literary Fiction

"[Mitchell's] exuberant, Nabokovian delight in word play; his provocative grapplings with the great unknowables; and most of all his masterful storytelling: all coalesce to make Cloud Atlas an exciting, almost overwhelming masterpiece." (Washington Times)

"[Cloud Atlas] glows with a fizzy, dizzy energy, pregnant with possibility and whispering in your ear: listen closely to a story, any story, and you'll hear another story inside it, eager to meet the world." (The Village Voice)

"A remarkable book....It knits together science fiction, political thriller, and historical pastiche with musical virtuosity and linguistic exuberance: there won't be a bigger, bolder novel next year." (The Guardian)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (3277 )
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  •  
    Elizabeth Atlanta, GA, USA 01-05-08
    Elizabeth Atlanta, GA, USA 01-05-08 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "thoroughly enjoyed"

    Initially, I was concerned that I had made a mistake in choosing this book. Some of the reviews made me skittish and the first (of six) parts is quite difficult to listen to because of it's archaic language. In addition, this first part can make you worry that the book isn't going anywhere.
    My patience was rewarded for the rest of the book however, and I include the very end-that picks up the tale of this first part again and is much easier to listen to 2nd time 'round.
    The readers are all wonderful, but especially the reader of the sixth part. The sixth part also has strange language. But the reader is so good, that I was totally hooked by the second paragraph.
    The overall plot was, at first, hard to find. The story is so temporally disorienting that I had to let go for a while and just enjoy the little subplots as they lay. I noticed little gems of connection and filed them away for later.
    Then somewhere in the middle, revelation happened and I began to see Mitchell's point: Our past predicts our future, everything is cyclical and EVERYTHING is connected.
    That which sails hopefully to an island paradise must later row from it in horror. (I promise that wasn't a plot spoiler in any way) These connections are perfectly nuanced and so finely finessed, that I didn't see them at first. (I suspect this was meant to be; by one of the finest writers of our time.)

    I rarely read or listen to a book more than once but I am already looking forward to revisiting this again someday.

    99 of 108 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cynthia Lee Reneau Atlanta 11-30-12
    Cynthia Lee Reneau Atlanta 11-30-12 Member Since 2004
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    "Complicated and Not Good for Listening!"

    This is an outstanding book but mainly if you sit and "read" it. The book is a very complicated read but absolutely amazing if you take the time to actually read it. Listening to it, on the other hand, I found to be extremely difficult. While trying to listen, I found myself rewinding and re-listening to parts constantly causing much frustration and confusion. This book is not really meant for listening pleasure unless your IQ is way above average. If you have time to concentrate on your listen, you may be able to get through it. Once I sat down and read the book, I decided to give it another listen and I found the narrator to be amazing and intriguing. After reading the actual book, I had no trouble listening to it. I actually loved hearing it and got more out of it. If you find yourself unable to listen, sit down and give it a read. You'll Love it!

    23 of 25 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 05-09-12
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 05-09-12

    A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.

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    "A Puzzled & Perfect Novel"

    Ironic that I happen to read Cloud Atlas in the same year I read Calvino AND Gibbon's Decline and Fall. All I would have to do is read a little more Melville and perhaps some Jared Diamond and it would be impossible to explain as a mere coincidence. I loved the book. Maybe I'm a pushover for puzzle novels, structural creativity, narrative flourish, thematic clouds, etc., but I really enjoyed every page of Cloud Atlas. I do think this is a strong enough book that it deserves a place on the shelf next to DeLillo or Rushdie. Mitchell took a couple big risks and they paid off fairly well. Not that this is a perfect novel, and it is hard to justify giving it five stars when I also give Dostoevsky and Kafka five stars (certainly they deserve galaxies not stars). I guess the way I look at it is thus - if I read a novel and it makes me want to read another couple novels by the same author it deserves at least 4 stars. If, after reading an author's work, I want to go buy every damn work written - I'm pretty certain that justifies a five star rating

    48 of 54 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Hadassah Brooklyn, NY, USA 01-19-05
    Hadassah Brooklyn, NY, USA 01-19-05
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    "Easy listening it ain't"

    This is an extremely clever book filled with nuances and devices that would, I think, be better appreciated in the written form; to state the obvious, it's much easier to flip back in a book than it is to scan back on a listening device. But you (who am I kidding, I mean me; it's all about me) feel pretty darned smart while listening to the second half of the book when you find that not only do you really get it, but that you are also able to make "aha" connections between parts early on in the book that made almost no sense at the time. This isn't a mystery (although one of the stories within the book does take the form of a mystery, of sorts) but I often felt as if I would have been better able to keep up with the story if I had been taking notes; then again, that probably would have interfered with my ability to sleep on the subway while listening to some of this book. On an almost entirely positive note, some of the narration is excellent and the fact that the book is split up into six different stories with different narrators makes it very easy on the ear, if a little taxing on the brain.

    55 of 66 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Melinda UT 12-01-12
    Melinda UT 12-01-12 Member Since 2009

    So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "'I've looked at life from both sides now..'"

    Mitchell (David-not Joni) takes an abstract agenda on a circular trek that arcs over the years with different stories and characters, then curves neatly back and around to completion (because we know a circle has no beginning or ending). The trick is to not keep asking are we they're yet and enjoy the ride, because Mitchell is constantly moving toward a destination, in spite of the feeling that you are zig-zagging all over the place (as well as through time).

    As reviewers have already shared, there are 6 stories/narratives that--not so much weave together as--stack upon each other, forming a ring around a central theme. It IS witty and beautifully written and enlightening and humorous...I particularly enjoyed Mitchell's adeptness at becoming a new character and voice in a new era and a new world with each story--a person linked to the past and the future. And, he is a good story teller, one of those that can start a tale and envelop you in the atmosphere as much as the plot. Mitchell is as much an architect and adventurer as a writer, using his words to create and explore.

    Some reviewers said they thought Cloud Atlas was a difficult book--an evidentiary case for the audio/Kindle combo option. Having the text was a good tool for those times when I needed 2 or 3 reviews to get on course, but the audio production was so good it heightened the experience. That said, if you can listen without disruption and want a little mind-expanding journey through time, this is not difficult at all...it just is adventurous and outside the box. A puzzle--but one that you can piece together as you go and enjoy the picture as it comes into view.

    [*The many reviews here were a helpful guide (especially those that were able to take the advantage of time and add upon early reviews for our benefit on issues like *slow beginning* *abrupt story endings*) and made me appreciate anew the value of listener's sharing their experiences. Reviews I found helpful: Elizabeth/Atlanta; William/Bainbridge; Ryan/Somerville; Karen/Ames; and many more worth reading.]


    20 of 24 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 07-09-10
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 07-09-10 Member Since 2005

    Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.

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    "evocative"

    One of my favorite books ever, partly because of its unusual structure. Cloud Atlas isn't really a novel in a traditional sense, but six stories nested inside each other. Mitchell writes each vignette in a wildly different setting and style, and offers only the slightest of devices linking each one to the next. There's a 19th century seafaring tale, a sardonic coming-of-age story set in the 30s, a piece after a 1970s suspense paperback, and... well, I won't give away the others. The lack of much direct connection between stories is the sort of choice that some readers will admire and some will think reduces the whole work to an exercise in self-indulgence.

    I fall into the former camp. Mitchell has the virtuosity to make his design work, and each character voice, though very different from the preceding one, rings true. I think that readers who are looking for a clever device to tie it all together, obvious closure, or a sense of how seriously the author means us to take his fanciful constructs, are missing the point. I find this be a work that creates a series of impressions, like paintings or tracks on a music album, and lets them float together in the reader's mind, their mood and tone forming moving but elusive connections in the imagination. In this case, the sense of struggle and incompleteness that each story evokes in its turn came across in a way I found beautiful and affecting, even in the way one world gave way to the next without warning. The cyclical structure of the book and its recurring patterns reminded me of Buddhist ideas. Don't try to read Cloud Atlas just for plot, or you'll be disappointed; read it for the writing, conviction, imagery, and artistry.

    15 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stacey Berwyn, PA, USA 05-03-05
    Stacey Berwyn, PA, USA 05-03-05 Member Since 2001
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Incredibly imaginative and complex"

    This is one of the best books I have read in the last few years (and I read more than 100 books per year). The different narrators for each section were excellent and helped distinguish each story. I did find myself reviewing the hard copy of the book as well because the material is so rich, I didn't want to miss anything. Although I normally don't read science fiction, the sections that were science fiction were intriguing because of the way they tied into the remainder of the book. Don't miss it!

    30 of 37 people found this review helpful
  •  
    William R. Creech Bainbridge Island, WA United States 01-23-05
    William R. Creech Bainbridge Island, WA United States 01-23-05 Member Since 2001
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Clever writing"

    This "novel" is really 6 short stories. The gimmick is that the second story starts in the middle of the first and the third starts in the middle of the second and so on. Only the sixth story is complete and then we get the finish of the fifth, fourth, third, second and first stories. The stories occur in the 1840s, 1930s, 1970s, present, 100+ years, 200+ years.

    On one level, the author is making his philosophical point that mankind is inheritently greedy and willing to kill and enslave other humans. The ultimate result is a corpocracy that destroys everything as we see in the final two stories.

    On another level is a great wordsmith who gives each story a different voice and even a different language while staying true to his message. In the second story, a composer writes to his physicist friend(see third story) that he has conceived a major work which he will call the "Cloud Atlas Sextette." Each of the six parts will be a different instrument and will be interrupted by the next part and finished in descending order by the remaining parts: 12345654321. The composer asks: Is this a conceit or genius? And each listener should probably ask the same question.

    The readers are excellent and it is immediately clear which of the six stories is being read. There are a lot of interesting discussion issues raised by this book. I would buy it again but I imagine that many would not really enjoy it.

    59 of 74 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Scott Roseville, CA, United States 02-10-13
    Scott Roseville, CA, United States 02-10-13
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    "Six Short Stories Lumped Under One Title"

    This book is NOT about past lives entwined with modern or future lives. Each character is ostensibly "reading" about the previous character but this is only very clear in one or two of the stories. If you're looking for a book like "Holes" where past and present lives impact one another you will be sorely disappointed.

    Putting six different stories in one book under one title seems absolutely arbitrary here. The rave reviews seem directed simply at the writer's ability to write in six different styles to match the book's six different settings. All the stories are tragedies but a few have comic or thriller elements that made those FEW bits moderately entertaining, and keeping the reader hopeful for more but ultimately disappointed.

    The writer uses an ostentatiously elevated writing style. Yet all that impressive vocabulary does not add one iota to emotional value of the writing. The first story, widely regarded as tedious in these very reviews, is a perfect example of that point.

    Yes, some give this book rave reviews. They may be applauding the author's creativity, but they are NOT speaking of his ability to entertain which is weak, at best, and limited to the first halves of only three stories.

    If you like generally bleak stories with sad endings you will love this book.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Teri Emmett, ID, United States 11-11-12
    Teri Emmett, ID, United States 11-11-12 Member Since 2011
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    "a concert of"
    If you could sum up Cloud Atlas in three words, what would they be?

    Back and Forth


    What was most disappointing about David Mitchell’s story?

    There were some great stories in the mix, and some real stinkers. Loosely they were linked together to make a story, and it felt like it was loosely linked together.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Not in the lest. I liked the over all feel of it much more then I liked a single hour sitting.


    Any additional comments?

    There is a lot of hype over this book because of how it progresses, but I persnally felt like I had to wade through a lot to get there.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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