Updated: Sep 30, 2021
By Anthony Doerr
Doerr’s Intent for the Book is Immensely Noble.
The centerpiece of Cloud Cuckoo Land is ancient fragments of a moldy manuscript written by Greek author Antonius Diogenes. The manuscript tells the story of Aethon, a shepherd who dreams of being transformed into a bird so he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. Aethon’s story is the thread woven between five characters in Cloud Cuckoo Land, who are from the past, the present, and the future.
Past - Anna, an orphan, lives inside the walled City of Constantinople. She teaches herself to read and finds the text, the story of Aethon, in an abandoned abbey. She read the manuscript to her ailing sister while the city was preparing for war. Outside the city's walls is Omeir, a boy from a faraway village. Omeir and his oxen have been conscripted by the invading army. Omeir’s only wish is to return to his family. The paths of Omeir and Anna will intersect during the siege of the city.
Present - In the children’s section of a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno Ninis, who had served in the Korean war, has translated Aethon story into a play, and five fifth-grade children from the local elementary school are rehearsing for a performance. While the children are rehearsing, Seymour, a troubled teenager, enters the Library with a bomb inside a backpack.
Future - Konstance and her family are aboard the interstellar ship Argos to find a new planet on which to live. They have everything with them on the ship they will ever need. Konstance is alone in a vault on the ship, copying the story of Aethon, as told to her by her father, onto scraps of paper.
“The world we’re handing our kids brims with challenges: climate instability, pandemics, disinformation. I wanted this novel to reflect those anxieties, but also offer meaningful hope, so I try to create a tapestry of times and places that reflect our vast interconnectedness— with other species, with each other with the ones who live before us, and the ones who will be hereafter we’re gone.”—Anthony Doerr
Doerr’s intent for Cloud Cuckoo Land is immensely noble. But honestly it made me think I was cuckoo, simply because I did not love it as much as others. My main issue is with the book’s structure and the lack of accomplishing the intended theme.
The writing was great and character are intriguing, but the read was difficult. Keeping up with with five characters across three time lines and multiple settings was difficult. The shorter chapters, normally a delight, made the individual story lines seem choppy and disjointed. Despite the 640 pages, I didn’t feel the authors intended interconnectedness between the characters. Aethon’s story is what supposedly weaves them all together, but it all felt somewhat contrived. After all, readers love reading books about books. Are we interconnected because we have all read the same book or heard the same story. I think there is more to interconnectedness than that.
Thanks to Netgalley for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Published September 28, 2021