Book Review for “Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr.
Summary: “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.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Speculative, Fiction; Settings: Historical, Contemporary, Futuristic; Multiple Locations – fictional and real; Other Categories: Novel, Multiple Timelines, Literary, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Mythology.
Where to begin with this book? Well, with well over 600 pages, there’s a whole lot here to talk about, that’s for sure. I should mention that rushed to ask for the ARC of this book, even before I read the summary. In fact, I just saw Doerr’s name and I just jumped at the chance to be an early reader; I didn’t bother to read any further, until after downloaded the book. And… then the trepidation came. See, when I started to investigate further, I realized not only was this a very long book for me, but it also encompasses genres for which I’m not much of a fan. But then I thought, “you know what? Life is too short to shoehorn myself into only a few genres.” Plus, because I already know that Doerr’s writing is magical (even when there’s nothing paranormal going on in the story), I figured I’d give it a fighting chance.
Admittedly, it took me some time to get into this book, because the first few chapters and their many settings felt disjointed and strangely disconnected from each other. Furthermore, some of the subject matter of a couple of these stories were uncomfortable to read about, or felt somewhat unappealing. Strangely enough, the fantastical ancient story of Cloud Cuckoo Land itself, which reads much like a fairy tale based in mythology, was pretty interesting to read. This is partially because those parts were told with alongside the idea of this story being carried out of obscurity and translated so more people could read and enjoy it in the future. The more I read this book, the more I also saw this tale as being a type of metaphor for the premises that Doerr is putting into this novel, of which there seem to be several. In fact, I think that the messages that Doerr is trying to convey here are what link all these different timelines, none of which are evident at the outset of this book, and they do take quite a long time to become clear (or at least, clear enough).
Look, the expansiveness of this novel – not just in length, but also in scope, makes it very difficult to write a review. There’s far more to unpack here than meets the eye, and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that this is one of those “marmite” books that people are going to either love or hate. On the one hand, the writing is, as noted, exquisite. On another hand, some of the topics are hard to read about. On yet another hand, there are elements that both fascinate and repel the reader; some things will draw you in, while others could very well annoy you. But it all comes back to a novel that beneath its beauty, will certainly make you think. Did I enjoy it? Well, for the most part, I have to say yes. But it won’t be an easy read for anyone. That’s why I think I’ll recommend this novel for those readers who want to be challenged, and give it four and a half stars out of five.
Scribner released “Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr on September 28, 2021. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK and US (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and US, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.