CLOUD ATLAS Demystified


[MUSIC] [MUSIC] [MUSIC] VERONICA BELMONT: It spans a few different
genres but I think all together it just makes for a really interesting story. ETHAN NICHTERN: I was like, whoever wrote
this is gonna be remembered as one of the top authors of the early 21st century. MATTHEW HART: It’s like watching a firework
display. The spectacle of the artwork itself is what’s drawing your attention. ETHAN NICHTERN: I read it pretty early on
and then kept recommending it to people over the last 5 or 7 years and it’s like this is
a pretty amazing work of human fiction. MATTHEW HART: Cloud Atlas is a book that repays
the sort of linguistic generic study that academics brings to it, but it’s also just
a great story. AMY LAU: Mitchell really plays with the subgenres
of literature and he puts it all together in one book and the amazing part about Cloud
Atlas is it all ties together. TOM MERRITT: I like so many different kinds
of genres. I was just…it was like having a sampler platter. You know, like a Whitman
sampler box, I was just eating all the chocolates. VERONICA BELMONT: A lot of people complain
that David Mitchell was trying to show off a little bit. “Look how smart I am, I’m writing
in all these different styles” but like Tom said, he absolutely pulled it off. SAMIR CHOPRA: You respect the writer for being
so ambitious. It’s not clear to me that he’s pulled off everything that he wanted to do,
but you’ve gotta respect the attempt. [MUSIC] TOM MERRITT: I do think that Cloud Atlas defies
genre classification. When I try to describe the genre I generally fall back on conceptual
fiction. It seems to fit loosely in there. ETHAN NICHTERN: It’s this notion of an interwoven
narrative throughout time and space. VERONICA BELMONT: It’s 6 nested stories and
they have some similar themes across the stories and similar characters. SAMIR CHOPRA: So you go from the oldest story
to the newest story, then from the newest story back to the oldest story. So the structural
aspects of the novel are very front and center. AMY LAU: In the first half of the book when
you get the fractured narratives, the reader has to go through the book and figure out
what’s going on for themselves. Then the second half is kind of like the “aha” moments where
it’s like “oh okay, I get what he was doing in the first half.” MATTHEW HART: Well he’s doing something which,
you know, prose writers have done for centuries which is to construct a larger work out of
a series of smaller stories. What’s really interesting about it is that he then decides,
“okay I’ve got this structure in mind. I’m gonna deal with it by creating not just different
stories, but stories that operate in totally different generic registers.” You’ve got something
like The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, which is really invested in travel writing of the
19th century and is doing a kind of historical work. SAMIR CHOPRA: Who does he quote as an inspiration?
He quotes an American classic. He quotes Herman Melville and Moby Dick. TOM MERRITT: And then you’ve got Letters from
Zedelghem which is your Isherwood, Evelyn Waugh sort of style. AMY LAU: The section’s written in this letter
format and basically Robert Frobisher is this British musician. MATTHEW HART: Frobisher is the classic tortured
bisexual modernist artist. TOM MERRITT: Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey
Mystery. MATTHEW HART: It’s a pastiche of the airport
thriller, but it works as an airport thriller. It really is thrilling. TOM MERRITT: The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy
Cavendish, probably your closest to a mainstream novel, right? MATTHEW HART: This picaresque novel about
a down on his luck, aging publisher. TOM MERRITT: I just really hated Timothy Cavendish. VERONICA BELMONT: Really? TOM MERRITT: Uh yeah, I had no sympathy. VERONICA BELMONT: I kind of loved him. MATTHEW HART: Then we jump from that to Korea
in some, you know, future world. “Fabricants” and “Pure Bloods”. A kind of Blade Runner
style world. TOM MERRITT: And Sloosha’s Crossin’ An’ Ev’rythin’
After. VERONICA BELMONT: Just straight up post-apocalyptic. TOM MERRITT: Yeah. MATTHEW HART: There he’s clearly read and
enjoyed the sort of subgenre of post-apocalyptic fantasy novels. VERONICA BELMONT: Margaret Atwood. TOM MERRITT: Oh Atwood, yeah. Good call. VERONICA BELMONT: Very Atwoodian. SAMIR CHOPRA: What you get at the end are
Mitchell’s unique creations that have taken all these distinct elements and combined them
into something new and unique. MATTHEW HART: He’s obviously committed to
his vision of how he wants to organize the novel and that means that he has to compromise
somewhat with accessibility. ETHAN NICHTERN: Not to be too tongue-in-cheek
about academia but that’s how you know you’re gonna get read in English departments for
decades to come is if you write something that’s tough to read. TOM MERRITT: It’s a good book club book because
I saw in our book club people telling each other, “No no no don’t give up yet, it does
get better you just have to persevere.” Sort of encouraging each other to keep going. AMY LAU: He expects a lot of his reader, but
it’s a good kind of expectation because it forces you to engage with the text. MATTHEW HART: One of the things that makes
this such a significant novel and a novel that people love so much is Mitchell’s virtuosity
with language as well as genre. It’s one of the things that makes Cloud Atlas such an
impressive work of art. SAMIR CHOPRA: His voice inhabits a lot of
different characters. He manages to speak like a woman, he manages to speak like a man,
he manages to speak like a non-human and he sets them in different times and places. AMY LAU: This is one of the things where Mitchell
stands out from other writers. He’s able to jump from 19th century speak to some made
up dialect far in the future. ETHAN NICHTERN: Since he’s so nailing the
voice of the time and place there’s a sense of sort of drudging through a little bit. MATTHEW HART: It’s certainly one of the dangers
of any novel that’s constructed out of very different parts that there’s going to be the
question, “Does it all hang together?” SAMIR CHOPRA: I think it’s quite clear that
you could read each one of the stories as a distinct story and they would still be interesting,
which sometimes makes you wonder has it really worked as a novel or am I reading a kind of
collection of short stories instead? MATTHEW HART: That’s a real danger with this
sort of artwork and I think it’s one that Mitchell avoids, but perhaps only just. TOM MERRITT: I thought he pulled it off very
elegantly. I love the way each story picks back up from the previous story. MATTHEW HART: He ties them in together in
so many different ways, I mean, partly through the reincarnation conceit. The idea that these…the
protagonists of these stories are essentially the same person born again. AMY LAU: I would say what ties the whole narrative
together from my reading of it is all the ethical questions that come up again and again
in a different time and in a different space, but it’s still the same basic questions like
“how do you treat another person or another being that’s come from a different background
than you?” VERONICA BELMONT: One of the things that really
jumped out for me was the idea of slavery and not just in the literal sense, but being
held against your will, being forced to do things against your will. That theme I think
came back in almost every story. ETHAN NICHTERN: The other theme I think that’s
important is the notion of interdependence. The way states of mind and psychological dilemmas
sort of re-iterate themselves through time and space. MATTHEW HART: When you’re reading the book,
you’re not focused upon the overarching themes of the novel. Most of the time you’re thinking
about what it’s like to read Cloud Atlas, about the strangeness and the wonder and the
crazy experience that reading this series of interconnected narratives brings. Water Isaacson: Steve called me in 2004 and
I’d done a biography of Ben Franklin, was about to publish one on Einstein. He said,
“Why not do me next?” I didn’t realize he was sick and I didn’t really turn him down
I just said, “Yeah, let’s do it but let’s wait 20 or 30 years till you retire” and then
his wife said to me and other people said to me, “Hey if you’re gonna do Steve, you
gotta do him now.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

55 thoughts on “CLOUD ATLAS Demystified”

  1. Gabriel Shaffer says:

    It sounds like a painful read, like the demons souls of the book scene

  2. Guillermo Córdoba says:

    I'm totally reading it.

  3. lianji mori says:

    read this a few years ago…riveting

  4. Anna Mosity says:

    I'll have to check it out 🙂

  5. Maximilian Roszko says:

    Yupp, now I have to read it…

  6. Benjamin Basinger says:

    He's only 8 and I'd vote for him.

  7. Randy T. Scarecrow says:

    Watching this, pleasantly surprised to see Veronica on this panel! She didn't get enough talk time! Intriguing as it all seems, I'll watch the movie before I read the book…the layers of back story that predicates the "now" story has been done well before, as noted in this vid – and to read half a thick book before the A-HAH moment..
    I find it very distracting…the teeth, the impossibly white teeth, and I seem to focus on that instead of what they are saying…I'll just watch the movie first.

  8. asmellyhamster says:

    Just finnished it, feel confused as fuck going to have to read it again sometime. Really enjoyed the Sonmi 451 parts.

  9. Presta.Club says:

    but it's worth every minute of it
    Just imagine a painful climbing up the cliff ,
    You almost decide to give up several times before reaching the top
    but you hear music,
    gospel like music, a bird song,and ancient drums….
    and…on the top a view, oh my God what the VIEW !

  10. guitaoist says:

    brilliant book.

    nietzsche at 6:30 should have been mentioned because the WHOLE premise revolves around his ETERNAL Recurrence. it is mentioned 4 times in the novel.

  11. guitaoist says:

    nor did they mention james joyce my god, it has ulysses (oxen of the sun chapter) written all over it

  12. gediman15 says:

    I don't think this is a particularly "difficult" book tbh. The themes are very much in the foreground, the only thing really unusual about it is the whole story within a story within a story gimmick, and, really, isn't that just The Arabian Nights? That said, it's one hell of a fun read.

  13. Arthur Hoffert says:

    To be fair I think we can give this one to Heinrich Heine and not Nietzsche, his eschatology allowed permutations in our experience.

  14. Hunter Osking says:

    I think infinite jest fits that description better.

  15. Mark Aguilar says:


  16. JASON ROBERTS says:

    the post apocalyptic story the shoosha one i was struggling so hard with that one..i just couldn't get through it so i left it and watched the movie instead to figure out how those stories individually intended and connected with each other

  17. JASON ROBERTS says:

    sonmi was the best story for me!

  18. pantalaemon says:

    I think Robert Frobisher's story is the most heartbreaking, in the end. Dear god.

  19. AmirCadadar says:

    Well, I only saw the film (Athens). Kept me watching with interest throughout but it bothered me that some of the ideas were not that original (Soylent Green, anyone?). After watching this discussion I realize that (and that too is not at all original, I know) the book must be way better and richer that the movie.

  20. IEatCereal4Dinner says:

    I've read so many books, and I still think this is the best book ever written.

  21. spotoftrouble says:

    What I love about this book is that I discuss this book with others who have read it – link the smallest characters between all the stories. The language took a while to get into, but eventually I got into the stories so much! I sensed a theme of rebellion or rejection from within each story, as well as each character going on a life changing journey, whether it was emotional or phyiscal. It was great finding all the links, such as simple things mentioned, like Luisa's fear of guns.

  22. yeeroy says:

    Haha, I read it because I was enraptured by the wonderful and riveting movie trailer with the beautiful music. The novel and movie are amazing by themselves, but trying to piece the movie and the book together, finding where they divert and compromise on some specific themes, and the beauty that the author created and how the directors translated it into cinematic form, is just frickin amazing.

  23. Chad Adams says:

    1:13 badass shirt

  24. Tim Holm says:

    I thought the same thing. But did you notice how 'Soylent Green' was actually mentioned in the movie by Timothy Cavendish? And perhaps Sonmi 451 is a reference to Fahrenheit 451 – another dystopia.

  25. Bipin Anand says:

    Watch the film – it's a good adaptation… Very different, but told well!

  26. aesthetic fantasy says:


  27. Marc C. says:

    Post Apocalyptic was about overcoming your flaws and inner demons, and learning to coexist and trust another person, this being a different race that Meronym came with, which were basically aliens. The protagonist of that story played by Tom Hanks learned to overcome his demons and let another species help correct his sense of morality, and let alone salvage what was left of the human race for a better future. Not to mention he fell in love with Meronym XD

  28. Chillydreamers says:

    Take that comment back, the movie is a masterpiece Art of work,other movie like this are also inception as donnie darko, ty.

  29. Marc C. says:

    The most heartbreaking on screen as well.

  30. Marc C. says:

    Cloud Atlas 2, starring these folks.

  31. lucasthebull says:

    Timothy Cavendish was my favorite 😀

  32. chaos396 says:

    Fantastic book, even if reading it can be incredibly jarring at first. Just don't do a book report on it. Neeeeever do a book report on it.

  33. thecrouchmonster says:

    blah blah blah blah blah. somebody get me a razor so I can slit my wrist.

  34. Starry Night says:

    Can anyone suggest some novels set in a futuristic world like in Sonmi 451 please?

  35. Matthew Humenansky says:

    Just picked this up today, can't wait to read it!

  36. samimalmstrom says:

    Narcistic, pretentious critics. What a sad bunch of pseudo intellectuals!

  37. Sasha Solomon says:

    Do you think there is an ounce of possibility he and Sixsmith ever meet again? I have a strong feeling that because he committed suicide there's definitely very little chance they ever do.

  38. skaetur1 says:

    Snowcrash & Diamond Age.

  39. Dontboxmein7 says:

    Who is the true savage? That is Cloud Atlas demystified.

  40. Cesar Salazar says:

    i find this soo interesting. i wanna write a novel now

  41. hebrux says:

    I NEED to read that book! Already watched the movie!

  42. Stanley Anderson says:

    Thought this was about the movie…I'll stay and watch.

  43. Broyale26 says:

    Just finished reading Cloud Atlas. Excellent read, not nearly as challenging or difficult as I has expected. Alot of people are making a big deal out of the structure of the book and I don't understand why.

  44. Christian charles says:

    This book made my brain hurt a bit.

  45. Eric Ward says:

    saw the movie. must find this book!

  46. J G says:

    Is it dry or a good read?

  47. Dave Marx says:

    Chopra sounds like the Critic who gets thrown off the roof.

  48. Angella Belami says:

    After watching the movie a got this sudden burst of energy to begin writing a novel! I feel inspired 🙂

  49. HomelessOnline says:

    Great book, lousy video here.

  50. Tom says:

    This video was mostly about the technique of the novel, and implies that the novel's value lies merely and solely in its success in handling novelistic techniques. Very little was said about what the novel means, or what the author was trying to say to the world about the world. These critics are in awe of David Mitchell's virtuosity, must as someone might be in awe of the technical mastery of Beethoven. But these critics somehow mostlyt missed the obvious fact that David Mitchell telling to tell readers what he believes about the great possibilities and tragic limitations of human nature. The complex structure and techniques of the Cloud Atlas novel are in service of the message. The techniques are, in the final analysis, not the point. But to the critics in this video, the techniques are mostly the point. What an oversight! These critics mainly take the old "art for art's sake" approach to literature, but that's misguided in this case, since author David Mitchell so clearly does not take that view of literature.

  51. H N says:

    I just got this book on my Kindle. True, True.

  52. Roger Brown says:

    Need to see the 4 hour Cloud Atlas!!!!!

  53. Acgogo Acgogo says:

    First encountered "Cloud Atlas" as an (gasp) audiobook. I then read the book. Listened to the audiobook again. Then re-read the book. That's how dense I am. Anyone who had difficulty with the book, should definitely listen to the audiobook which is one of the best in that format I've ever heard. Also, the film should have been a TV mini-series, not a crammed into one long movie.

  54. Cmmmm says:

    I didn't have to read the novel… saw the movie so BOO-YAH. Saved me some time on that one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *