Book: Cloud Cuckoo Land
Author: Anthony Doerr
Release Date: September 28th, 2021
Genre: Historical fantasy
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for my gifted copy of this book. It was one of my most highly anticipated books of the year. As soon as I heard Anthony Doerr was publishing another book I had to have it. If you haven’t read his first book All The Light We Cannot See, it won a pulitzer and was one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Hook: 2/2 – The book is set in three different times, 15th century Constantinople, Present Day Idaho, and on a spaceship traveling to a new planet far into the future. A story about a city called Cloud Cuckoo Land unites all the time lines. But the thing that really hooked me was the beginnings of the story set in present day. Zeno is an octogenarian helping a bunch of kids put on a play at the library. Seymour is a young adult that wants to bomb Eden Realty which is right next to the library. He goes to the library to set up his bombs along the wall where Eden is, at the same time Zeno and the kids are rehearsing upstairs. The book jumps around the different time periods slowly giving you back story for each character. Each chapter is fairly short which kept me reading. And each chapter begins with another excerpt from the ancient story about Cloud Cuckoo Land.
Plot: 3/3 – Everything is revealed slowly. This is a 600+ page book and it’s similar to All The Light in that you can’t rush it. Doerr has an eloquent way of giving you just enough information each chapter to keep you turning the pages. The book is divided into parts and at the beginning of each part you learn a little more about Cloud Cuckoo Land. Then you continue the three stories happening in each timeline.I thought it was really well done how each timeline was told. Below is a spoiler-free breakdown of each timeline.
Constantinople 1450’s – Anna is a young orphan who lives in a house with her sister, they are servants to a Lord and they do needlework. Her sister Maria is really good, and Anna is too distracted. She runs errands to the market and one day meets an old Greek who starts teaching her to read in exchange for food. The story he teaches her with is about Cloud Cuckoo land. Omeir is on the other side of the wall near Constantinople, his Sultan is preparing to siege the city and he is enlisted to help. He grew up shunned for his cleft lip which “disfigured his face like a demon”. He lives with his mother, sisters and grandfather outside a small village. Anna and Omeir’s stories eventually comes together during the siege on Constantinople.
Lakeport, Idaho present day – Zeno is an old man that has been helping a group of 5 fifth graders prepare a play following the story of Cloud Cuckoo Land. On the day the story starts they are having their dress rehearsal in the public library. Seymour is a young environmental activist that is angry at Eden Realty, we find out why later, and wants to bomb their head office to send a message. He takes his bombs into the library while the kids are rehearsing upstairs. We slowly through the book learn about Zeno’s life as a closeted gay man. And we learn about Seymour’s struggling childhood living in a trailer with his hard working mom. We don’t learn what happens at the library until near the end of the book but that hanging question really drove me through the book.
The Argos, many years into the future – Konstance is a young woman on a spaceship called The Argos, the ship left Earth to head to a more hospitable planet that is 500 years travel away. So the crew of the ship must keep procreating and traveling for generations to make it to the new planet. They have an AI aboard named Sybil that contains all the information possible from Earth. The crew members study everything to be prepared for the next generation etc until the generation that finally has to colonize a new planet. Konstance loves to hang out in the farm cells with her botanist father, learning all about gardening. And while they work he tells her the story of Cloud Cuckoo Land.
Writing: 3/3 – Doerr is just an amazing writer. There’s a reason that Doerr won a pulitzer prize for his first novel All The light We Cannot See. His writing is slow and beautiful. It sucks you in and makes the feeling of just another chapter an easy one. I enjoyed every moment of this huge book. Often I find the middle of a giant book to be a little slow but not this one. The tension builds at just the right pace. Every character’s story is interesting and moving. It’s just beautiful. I cannot recommend this book enough.
Characters: 2/2 – I loved them all. Zeno was so lovely, having lost both his parents at a young age he moves through the world with an appreciation most people don’t have. Seymour is so troubled, he struggles to understand why we treat the environment the way we do. And everything he struggles with is stuff that bothers me too, that make me worry about climate change too. So it’s easy to relate to him, despite his violence. Konstance is just trying to understand her place in a world that is a small metal box, learn who she is and what her role in the world is. Anna is a survivor, she does everything she can to support her sister and make ends meet. She has a thirst for knowledge and a love of books that so many readers can relate to. Omeir is a gentle soul that loves animals and is treated terribly just because of the way he looks. He is relatable to every one out there that has been treated poorly for something they can’t control. And the story of Cloud Cuckoo Land is about a seemingly unachievable utopia we all fantasize about, and what happens when you finally get there.
I loved this book, it’s been a while since I had a 5 star read. I don’t hand out a perfect score lightly but I think this one deserves it. If you are a fan of historical or literary fiction, I definitely recommend giving this book a shot. And then let me know what you thought!