What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell

Field-Tested by Amy Rea

on a Plane and in Jamaica

In January of 2005, our family of four went on a long-anticipated trip to Jamaica. There’d been a great deal of personal and professional stress in my life around that time, and I was looking forward to simply relaxing pool- and ocean-side, drinking things that were bad for me, buying tacky souvenirs, and reading. I never know what to pick for a vacation — I’m not a ‘beach book’ person. I can’t always tell what’s going to work for vacation reading and what isn’t. I threw several books in my carry-on, hoping one of them would grab me.

When our plane took off from Minneapolis/St. Paul, I pulled the thickest one out of the bag — Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It was the best choice I could possibly make. The story is divided into six narratives, starting from long-ago times and carrying forward to the far, post-apocalyptic future — and all the way back again. The strands connecting the narratives sometimes seem tenuous, but particularly in the second half of the book, the strands become clearer in a ‘20-20 hindsight’ kind of way.

I read on the plane. I read on the beach. I read in our hotel room and on the balcony. I read by the pool. I read at the lunch buffet, where I picked little joint sockets out of curried goat. I read on a hammock stretched between two giant palm trees. The book carried me nearly all the way through the vacation — one of the best vacations we’ve ever had. The kids swam and tried scuba diving and made sand sculptures; hubby napped; we went sightseeing and played with wild dogs on the beach and ate goat and lobster.

And the book, which in no way mirrored my experience, had me enthralled from beginning to end. Towards the end (of both the vacation and the book), I didn’t want it to end, and I began reading more slowly, trying to make it last. But reader’s greed got the better of me, and I finished the book on our last night.

Which left quite a dilemma for the long day of travel home. Usually I can finish one book, set it down, and start right into the next. But Cloud Atlas so captivated me that I was afraid I couldn’t read another right away — and boy, are long plane rides boring without a book.

I did start a new book on the way home: The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler. Completely different, and yet I ended up loving that one too. Neither have anything to do with Jamaica, but I always think of Jamaica when I remember those books.

Amy Rea is a freelance writer and novelist-wannabe. She did manage to publish a book this year, although it’s not fiction: Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes: an Explorer’s Guide (Countryman Press). You can find her thoughts about her home state at her blog.

Buy Cloud Atlas