Naturally, when a Pulitzer Prize winner like Doerr releases a follow-up novel many years later, people are going to make comparisons. I will say that my first experience with Doerr was his travel memoir, Four Seasons in Rome, which I unexpectedly loved. I didn’t actually read All the Light We Cannot See until about a year ago, but I loved it as well. I was ecstatic to get an ARC of Cloud Cuckoo Land, and there is almost no comparison for me: it’s amazing.
What it’s about
Thirteen-year-old Anna, an orphan, lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople in a house of women who make their living embroidering the robes of priests. Restless, insatiably curious, Anna learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds a book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. This she reads to her ailing sister as the walls of the only place she has known are bombarded in the great siege of Constantinople. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, miles from home, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the invading army. His path and Anna’s will cross.
Five hundred years later, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon’s story, preserved against all odds through centuries. Tucked among the library shelves is a bomb, planted by a troubled, idealistic teenager, Seymour. This is another siege. And in a not-so-distant future, on the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in a vault, copying on scraps of sacking the story of Aethon, told to her by her father. She has never set foot on our planet.
Let’s just get this out if the way: I loved this book, it’s definitely going to be on my best of list for 2021, and I think Anthony Doerr might be a literary genius.
With absolutely gorgeous writing, Doerr has woven together the stories of five distinct characters across hundreds of years, all revolving around one (fictional) ancient tale by Diogenes, Cloud Cuckoo Land. From the 15th century fall of Constantinople, to a 1940s American immigrant story, to a more modern day misguided autistic eco-warrior, to a near future where an interstellar traveler aboard a multigenerational space flight flees the ravaged Earth for a safe new home for humanity, we follow Diogenes’ shepherd, Aethon, as he tries to find a mythical land in the heavens.
All of the characters are completely formed and intriguing and the various storylines are delightfully complex. I was totally absorbed in this book from start to finish. It infuriated me, broke my heart a few times, and made me ridiculously happy. A complete, satisfying read, centered around the love of stories and learning, with deep, important messages and themes. I honestly can’t think of a thing I didn’t like about the book, and I can’t recommend it enough.
I read most on my kindle but supplemented on my walks with the (fantastic) audiobook. Personally, I like to listen to chunksters like Cloud Cuckoo Land, and the top-notch production and masterful narration by Marin Ireland and Simon Jones make for a great audio experience.
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my copy of this epic book in exchange for this honest, completely gushing, review.