If you want to know what you’re getting into when you choose a David Mitchell novel, commit three minutes to reading this interview first:
“I learned that language is to the human experience what spectography is to light: Every word holds a tiny infinity of nuances, a genealogy, a social set of possible users, and that although a writer must sometimes pretend to use language lightly, he should never actually do so — the stuff is near sacred.”
Swoon. I finished Cloud Atlas, that epic boomerang of a book, or, as Mitchell described it, “a row of ever-bigger fish eating the one in front” and I highly recommend it. Its major themes are power imbalances, the overreaches of authoritative bodies, the inevitable consequences of our technological dependence, and some variation of our “gimme gimme gimme” culture.
And of course there are some awesome structural elements, like a futuristic gossip rag-style interview between an archivist and a clone (called a “fabricant”) on death row, and a fictional dialect of a post-apocalyptic Hawaiian colony. I’m making it sound uber-cray, which it is, but just trust me that it all fits together.
You know what else it fits with? This amazing Hans Rosling video mapping the rise and fall of… well, the world. Rosling maps health and wealth of 200 countries over the last two centuries. Watch South Africa get richer and sicker due to the AIDS epidemic, watch the decimation of two world wars, and watch Japan join the early winners in the global domination game.
In Hans Rosling’s map, there is hope for improvement. The giant blue arrow framing the end of his presentation is indicative that slowly, unequally, and hestitantly, we are collectively moving towards a better future.
In Mitchell’s book, we begin on a primitive, ill, South Pacific island struggling to climb out from under violent oppressors. We climb all the way through the present into a future, on another tropical island, that is as sick and struggling and violent as ever. At least it’s fiction?
Related Post: Hans Rosling on the importance of washing machines.
Related Post: I had an English teacher who taught me the value of each and every word.