Friday, September 24, 2021

Cloud Cuckoo Land

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.

As Doerr alternates between the stories of his characters in short chapters, each 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. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

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