Reading: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

TitleCloud Cuckoo Land
AuthorAnthony Doerr
FinishedOctober 22, 2021

I enjoy reading multiple novels by the same author, so I was excited when I picked up this novel by the author of “All the Light We Cannot See”. Although the plot of this new novel could hardly be more different from the first, there are still themes and motifs that carry through. 

As in All the Light We Cannot See we follow the lives of vulnerable children. Like Maire-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig in the first novel, this novel’s characters have to survive in the midst of war and other peril.  Here we have five children who live over 500 years apart but experience the same fictitious ancient Greek text “Cloud Cuckoo Land”. 

Anna is a twelve year old orphan living in the besieged walled city of Constanttinople in the 16th century. Though forbidden to learn to read, with the help of an elder she does learn and comes across the ancient text. Omeir is a young boy with a severe cleft palate who instead of being murdered by his parents due to his disfigurement ends up on the other side of the Constantinople walls. 

In the 20th century we have Zeno – an outsider as a child who learned Greek as a prisoner in Korea – and Seymour who is on the autism spectrum and takes drastic action in a protest. His protest coincides with rehearsal of a public performance of Cloud Cuckoo Land translated and directed by Zeno. 

Then in the future we see Konstance who is escaping an unlivable planet earth on a spaceship going to another world. She has her own encounter with the story.

Doerr weaves these stories together. I found it a bit disconcerting at first, but quickly adjusted and enjoyed it. 

I love Doerr’s images

“September closes around August like the pincers of a claw, and in October  snow dusts the shoulders of the mountains”

page 79

This novel is a love song to books and libraries; in fact it is dedicated “For the librarians then, now, and in the years to come.” Licinius, who teaches Anna to read, tells her

“‘A text – a book – is a resting place for the memories of people who have lived before. A way for the memory to stay fixed after the soulde has traveled on.’  His eyes open very widely then, as though he peers into a great darkness ‘But books, like people, die. They die in fires or floods or in the  mouths of worms or at the whims of tyrants. ‘If they are not safeguarded, they go out of the world. And when a book goes out of the world, the memory dies a second death.’” 

page 51

All the characters strive to keep Cloud Cuckoo Land alive.

“Maybe Kalaphates was right: maybe dark magic does live inside the old books. Maybe as long as she still has more lines to read to her sister, as long as Aethon [protagonist of Cloud Cuckoo Land]  persists on his harebrained journey, flapping his way toward his dream in the clouds, then the city gates will hold; maybe death will stay outside their door for one more day.”

page 368

I enjoyed this book; it has building tensions in four different places and times. If you haven’t read All The Light We Cannot See I recommend you start with that masterpiece. Nevertheless, this is definitely worthy of your time.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.