…only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean?
Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?
I have been a reader most of my life. Since I was small, I inhaled books at a voracious rate. Growing up I read constantly, and chose to work for a degree in Literature. At the time, I wanted to be a librarian and spend my life surrounded by books. I studied the classics, both ancient and modern along with contemporary fiction, and major works of history. Later on, I read for pleasure and my shelves swelled with adventures, mysteries, drama, and republished old classics. Nook and Kindle have saved me the need to buy a bigger house for my books.
I say all this because Cloud Atlas is the best book I have ever read in my life. It is more than clever, it is brilliantly conceived and written. I have never read anything like it. The scope is enormous, and its powerful themes are penetrating and audacious.
The story is six interwoven narratives told forward and then backward in time. Each is written in a genre specific to the time and character. It stretches from the mid-1800s to hundreds or even thousands of years in the future. The Buddhist thread of reincarnation runs throughout, and we see the same characters in various roles and even different genders. But we find that people remain the same no matter where and when they are. There are “vicious acts and virtuous acts” done with both shocking cruelty and profound compassion.
So what is it about? Power, and what some will do to justify, take, and keep it. Racism, greed, and slavery are familiar subjects. And the never-ending quest for more.
More what? I asked. Old Uns’d got everything.
Oh, more gear, more food, faster speeds, longer lifes, easier lifes, more power, yay. Now the Hole World is big, but it weren’t big ’nuff for that hunger what made Old Uns rip out the skies an’ boil up the seas an’ poison soil with crazed atoms an’ donkey bout with rotted seeds so new plagues were born an babbits was birthed…..
Valleysmen’d not want to hear, she answered, that human hunger birthed the Civ’lize, but human hunger killed it too.
But there are also selfless acts of courage, brilliance in both music and science, and camaraderie that experiences such affinity, it reaches out to find the each other throughout the ages.
Then a peculiar thing occurred. The beaten savage raised his slumped head, found my eye and shone me a look of uncanny, amicable knowing! As if a theatrical performer saw a long-lost friend the Royal Box and, undetected by the audience, communicated his recognition.
This is not a book for light readers. But I encourage people to step out from their comfort zones and take on this marvelous, astonishing story. It is truly unforgettable.