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October 01, 2004

In My Head, Crow and Tom Cried, "MITCHELL!"

by Ron Hogan

mitchell.jpgThe buzz about Cloud Atlas first caught my attention back in February, so when I learned the author would be reading at Three Lives (a place Michael Cunningham calls "one of the greatest bookstores on the face of the Earth"), I was so there. Once I figured out exactly where in the Village it is, I mean; that whole area between Sixth and Seventh below Greenwich Avenue always confuses the bejesus out of me. Luckily, David Mitchell and his retinue were running a few minutes later than I was, so I was still able to stake out a spot in the back of the tightly packed room before his reading began.

Taking a spot at the head of the crowd, he asked if anyone had a favorite passage they'd like him to read. "I take requests," he quipped--and then proceeded to read a section from "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing" in which Ewing witnesses the whipping of a Moriori native. "Well, that's sort of a grim beginning, isn't it?" he said as the passage drew to a close, then told us about an encounter with a Maori on Chatham Island whol told him the Moriori were a myth created by misunderstanding English colonists. From there, Mitchell moved on to a scene from "Letters from Zedelghem" in which the narrator makes his way to the home of Vyvyan Ayrs--"and if anyone knows Albert Finney or his agents," he interjected after assaying Ayrs' first line of dialogue, "tell them they can have the rights for nothing." Finally, he read the opening of "Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After," the novel's midpoint before its interlocking narratives begin to fold back on themselves. I didn't quite catch what he said about the dialect in which it was written, but apparently it had something to do with someone who'd called in with a question when he was on WBUR's The Connection that morning. (The 47-minute show's worth a listen, if you've got the time, and includes a snippet of the Ewing passage.) The question-and-answer section was a bit abbreviated, but Mitchell did find time to recommend John Dower's writings on Japanese history and come up with a question he'd like to ask himself: "Why did you study literature at university when all you had to do was read the books?" (A question with which I, as a film school escapee, could instantly sympathize.)


I was at the reading, too; I arrived early enough to snag a seat right at the front. I've had a minor literary crush on David Mitchell since I first read GHOSTWRITTEN, so it was quite a treat for me.

The part you missed about the dialect was that a caller had called in to the radio show and read part of the Sloosha's Crossin' section over the phone. Mitchell said that the caller had a "great mountain accent", and he wished that the man could be standing there next to him doing the reading, but he didn't have "the Star Trek technology necessary to make that happen".

And was it just me, or did the last passage make you teary as well? I thought it was a fantastic reading, not least because Mitchell seemed to know the voices of his characters so well, and took real joy in sharing them with us.

Posted by: zan at October 1, 2004 03:13 PM
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