Cloud Atlas: Plot
Cloud Atlas consists of six novellas, fragmented and arranged in a circular fashion. Each story is connected to the next, overlapping through time using varying mediums such as journals, letters and movies. The story follows a soul that is reincarnated with a comet-shaped birthmark below their shoulder blade.
The first story follows a young notary, Adam Ewing. Adam has taken a ship from Sydney home to San Francisco. Adam’s journal begins in New South Whales, in a small village. There he meets an eccentric doctor named Henry Goose, and the two become unlikely friends. Henry decides to accompany Adam on his voyage and joins the crew of the Prophetess as ship’s doctor. Adam has a mysterious ailment, which he asks Henry for help with. The ship stops at Bethlehem Cape where Adam witnesses cruelty and manipulation of the natives. Back on the boat, Adam’s health rapidly deteriorates, and he finds out Henry is poisoning him. Adam is saved by a native named Autua and vows to join the abolitionist movement.
The second narrative is a series of letters from composer Robert Frobisher to his lover Sixsmith. Robert chronicles his life working for famous musician Arys, before deciding to write his own music. He writes the Cloud Atlas Sextet before killing himself.
The third novella is modeled after a political thriller, and follows Luisa Rey as she tries to uncover a conspiracy by Seaboard Incorporated. An atomic engineer named Rufus Sixsmith wrote a report on a faulty atomic generator, and is killed because the company doesn’t want it to get out. Luisa is almost killed several times trying to get her hands on the report. Eventually she does, and the company is exposed.
Next is the story of Timothy Cavendish, an unlucky book publisher who gets sent to a home for the elderly mistakenly thinking it is a hotel. He is trapped in the Aurora House for months before finally escaping with a few other old men and women. He gives directions for his story to be made into a movie.
In the distant future, in Nea So Copros, Sonmi-451 is a fabricant, a clone, being interrogated by the Archiver. She started out working at Papa Songs (future Korean McDonalds). She “ascended” her construct and developed a high level of intelligence, making her a prized commodity. She studies at University and is then taken by the Union, a terrorist organization. After seeing the inhumane slaughter of her fellow fabricants, she agrees to figurehead the Union’s rebellion. She is arrested, tried, and killed.
Lastly, in a post-apocalyptic world Zachary tells his story in the oral tradition. As a child, his father and brother are killed by the Kona. As a teenager, a Prescient woman comes to stay in the Valley, the place of their tribe. Her name is Meronym, and she observes the village life. After his initial mistrust, Zachary and Meronym become friends of sorts. He escorts her to the top of the local mountain where they find remnants of earlier civilization. At the time of trading, Kona attack the Valley. Zachary and Meronym escape, and he helps her get back to her people.
These six individual stories all part in the middle of the narrative, interrupting each other, before going back the way they came. The pattern is this 1,2,3,4,5,6,5,4,3,2,1 and begins and ends with Adam Ewing.