Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
9/28/21; 640 pages
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr is a very highly
recommended epic tale of the power of literature across centuries
and the interconnectedness of all humans. It is absolutely one of the
best books of 2021.
Cloud Cuckoo Land is named after an
imaginary world mentioned in Aristophanes's play The Birds
and the mythical novel is attributed to Antonius Diogenes, a real
writer, in Doerr's novel. In the saga written for Diogenes' niece during an illness, Aethon, a shepherd, dreams
of escaping to the cloud cuckoo land in the sky and his desire
sets him on an adventure that will have him residing in the bodies
of an animal, fish, and bird.
There are five
characters, all children, whose lives are centuries apart but
are also connected: Anna, Omeir, Zeno, Seymour,
and Konstance. Anna and Omeir, are young
teens living on opposites sides of the city walls during the
1453 siege of Constantinople. Anna is a failure as a seamstress, but she does manage to find a way to read ancient
Greek. Omeir is born with a cleft lip. He and his oxen are
drafted to help with the siege. In the 1950s Zeno Ninis is a
teen Lakeport, Idaho, who doesn't fit in and enlists for the
Korean war. As an adult in 2020 he works on translating the
ancient Greek text of Diogenes and works with a group of fifth
graders on making it into a play. In the 2000s Seymour is a loner with a
sensory disorder which sets him apart, but he bonds with nature
which leads him to a radical choice in 2020. Konstance
is living on the Argos, an interstellar spacecraft/ark
headed for exoplanet Beta Oph2 in the mid-22nd century.
alternates between the stories of his characters in short
of the imaginative, descriptive narratives is equally intriguing
and compelling. The connection between characters is not as
apparent in the beginning as it will become later in the novel,
but have patience because it will all come together in the end.
Clearly they are all touched by the tale of Aethon's travels
and adventures in Cloud Cuckoo Land. All the
characters are outsiders who are resilient and survivors. They
manage to endure and even thrive during difficult times and
circumstances. I cared deeply about each of these characters and their stories.
The writing is
descriptive, dazzling, and impressive. Each character is firmly
placed in their own timeline and setting and the settings are vividly detailed. These characters care for the book, the story it tells and the physical copy, and each other.
There is a complicated, beautiful, mortal truth about acceptance,
preservation, and survival that runs through the novel, connecting the
past, present, and future. There is also a
strong connection to literature and libraries; the novel is dedicated to
"the librarians then, now, and in the years to come."
Literature can transform people, provide hope, and heal us, even in a world full of afflictions and concerns.
In a hopeful, realistic, redemptive revelation the truth is exposed
that humanity with all of its problems, is what it is and that is
enough. This is an exceptional novel with a lasting impact. As
mentioned, Cloud Cuckoo Land is one of the best books of 2021.
My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
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