Re-Reading Cloud Atlas Part III
By Kim Hollis
October 31, 2012
As I mentioned before, the comet birthmark finds its final character in Meronym. Zachry describes his glimpse of it, saying, “Lady Moon lit a whoahsome wyrd birthmark jus’ b’low my friend’s shoulder blade as she sleeped fin’ly.” She completes the cycle, and she seems to embody all of the finest qualities of the characters throughout the tale.
Meronym is clearly not our only character who understands the concept of Eternal Recurrence, though. The Valleysmen’s religion carries it as a core belief, much like the worshippers of Siddhartha in Sonmi~451’s time. At one point, Zachry notes, “I glimpsed all the lifes my soul ever was till far-far back b’fore the Fall, yay, glimpsed from a gallopin’ horse in a hurrycane, but I cudn’t describe ‘em ‘cos there ain’t the words no more.”
By this point in the book, we’ve crossed from the oceans of the 19th century to the melodies of Belgium in the 1930s. We have journeyed through the 1970s up to present day, and into the future and beyond. Through all these ages, people have grown, have fought for their own rights and the rights of others, and as readers, we are part of the experience. “Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow? Only Sonmi the east an’ the west an’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’ clouds.”
At the very beginning of Zachry’s tale, his family is preyed upon by the Kona. This struggle between the more innocent Valleysmen versus the violent, cannibalistic warriors prevails throughout the entire novella, culminating in the village being destroyed and Zachry being taken captive. Meronym rescues him and takes him with her and the the other Prescients to a better, safer world, one where knowledge is power, but hopefully that power will be used to great advantage rather than for persecution.
The ultimate predation, though, is man’s own mind working against his best interests, and Zachry embodies this problem perfectly. In the form of Old Georgie, he finds reasons to give in to the very worst parts of himself, and he struggles to fight these impulses. When he makes the wrong choices (hiding when his family is in danger, slitting the throat of the Kona warrior), the consequences are dire. When he powers through and goes with “the word of Sonmi”, he rises above. Eventually, Meronym shows him how to persevere, though not without warning about how the master/slave paradigm evolves. “Old Uns tripped their own fall… Old Uns’ Smart mastered sicks, miles, seeds an’ made miracles ord’nary, but it din’t master one thing, nay, a hunger in the hearts o’ humans, yay, a hunger for more.” Is that “hunger” humanity’s doom? As long as there are people like Adam Ewing, Autua, Robert Frobisher, Rufus Sixsmith, Luisa Rey, Timothy Cavendish, Sonmi~451, Zachry and Meronym in society, hope stays alive.
My second reading of Cloud Atlas was immensely rewarding, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing other people come to the novel as the release of the film approached. I was involved in a discussion the other day regarding which portions of the book are our favorites, and I stated that mine is Robert Frobisher’s story, “Letters from Zedelghem.” Interestingly enough, having now seen the film from the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, I found Timothy Cavendish to be the most enjoyable in that format. It’s given me a renewed appreciation for that character and the way his tale is revealed.