Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After" -- An Error by David Mitchell?

Island Mosaic
(Icon from Wikipedia)

There's a baffling remark by the 'Hawaiian' character Zachry in a passage from "Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After" in David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas. I can't reconcile it with the rest of the story, but perhaps someone can help. Here's the passage, which has Zachry narrating his first visit to the inner sanctum of his tribe's religious center, known as the Icon'ry because it housed the 'icons' that represented each person who had died:
First time I went inside the Icon'ry was with Pa'n'Adam'n'Jonas when I was a sevener. Ma'd got a leakin' malady birthin' Catkin, an' Pa took us to pray to Sonmi to fix her, 'cos the Icon'ry was a spesh holy place an' Sonmi was norm'ly list'nin' there. Watery dark it was inside. Wax'n'teak-oil'n'time was its smell. The icons lived in shelfs from floor to roof, how many there was I cudn't tell, nay, you don't go countin' 'em like goats, but the gone-lifes outnumber the nowlifes like leafs outnumber trees. Pa's voice spoke in the shadows, fam'liar it was but eerie too, askin' Sonmi to halt Ma's dyin' an' let her soul stay in that body for longer, an' in my head I prayed the same, tho' I knowed I been marked by Old Georgie at Sloosha's Crossin'. An' then we heard a sort o' roaring underneath the silence, made o' mil'yuns o' whisp'rin's like the ocean, only it wasn't the ocean, nay, it was the icons, an' we knew Sonmi was in there list'nin' to us. Ma din't die. (Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, page 245)
The puzzling point, so far as I can make out, is that the speaker, Zachry, was "marked by Old Georgie at Sloosha's Crossin'" when he was a niner (nine years old), as we discover early in the story (page 240), but this passage takes place when Zachry "was a sevener" (seven years old).

Have I missed something? Can anyone who's read the story harmonize these details for me?

Or is this an error by the author, David Mitchell?

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At 2:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's interesting, I must have missed something too as I can't explain it.

At 4:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks. I'm glad that I'm not alone.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's a deliberate mistake by Mitchell to show that the story teller was flawed in his memories of true events, as tales and fables tend to be over time.

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Interesting suggestion. I'll have to reflect on that. Thanks.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:32 AM, Blogger Claudia Rose said...

I may not be correct, I haven't read the whole chapter very closely, but he says that he was a "niner" when Pa'n'Adam died, and this little story was when he was a "sevener", so isn't he just thinking of a time before they died, and he would obviously be younger then.
I might be missing something though, like I said, I haven't read the whole thing very close at all.

At 10:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The problem is that he's remembering that he couldn't properly pray along with his father because he'd been marked by Old Georgie at Sloosha's Crossin', but that 'marking' happened two years later, when his father was killed at that crossing.

I still can't see how to reconcile these ages of seven and nine.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:44 AM, Anonymous LB3 said...

This is for the paperback, right? I thought it was a writing mistake at first too but the person who suggested it's a deliberate one is of course right. We have to trust the author - it's not plausible that first he and second the editors are not aware of every aspect of the final text, down to each apostrophe in this chapter.

At 4:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't agree. If this reasoning were true, there would never even be any typos. I do a lot of editing work, and I see many mistakes -- even the final, published version will contain some.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't Zachry recounting this tale in a more future time and reflecting that when he was seven these events occured. Obviously it was before Pa and Adam died because they were there. So, I would assume that when Zachry is relaying the account of going into the Icon'ry and saying that he prayed, but now (at time of retelling) he knows it was futile because he would be cursed... kind of a if he knew then what he knew now kind of comment?

At 5:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That might make sense of the 7 and 9 if he's referring to a later time than 9 and knows that by that time, he's cursed and can't pray, but what time is that time?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading this post I too felt glad of not being alone. I can't explain this either. Thank you.

At 3:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Anon.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:26 PM, Anonymous Carol said...

I came looking for a discussion of this very issue. I've gone back and read the first part of that chapter twice to try to get it to work and I can't. He was nine when his father died but knew that he was marked by old Georgie at slooshas crossing two years earlier? I even thought there might have been 2 encounters with old Georgie at the same place but there is no support for that either. I think it's a mistake.

At 8:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Carol, for your comment. I agree with you. The discrepancy is a mistake.

Jeffery Hodges

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