Friday, July 29, 2022

Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land

From Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Open quote “Ah,” says the first sister, “fine choice,” and they sit on either side of him and the one who fetched the book says, “On a day like this, when it’s chilly and damp, and you can’t get warm, sometimes all you need are the Greeks”—she shows him a page, dense with verse—“to fly you all the way around the world to somewhere hot and stony and bright.” " Cloud Cuckoo Land
Cloud Cuckoo Land: A mashup of the fall of Constantinople, a modern-day crime thriller, and a future sci-fi journey to another star, all connected by an ancient Greek story. The characters are memorable, the plots compelling, but the sum is less than the parts. B+

Grade: B+

"Cloud Cuckoo Land" was on my must-read list as soon as it was released due to the "A+" I gave Anthony Doerr's last novel, "All the Light We Cannot See".

In "Cloud Cuckoo Land" we get the stories of several characters living in very different environments in different centuries. If that sounds familiar, it might be because that's just the way I described the last novel I read, "Sea of Tranquility". Maybe it's a popular concept for popular novelists today.

Doerr's characters include four children (and one old man) whose very survival is threatened in different ways. There's Anna, a fifteenth century orphan living inside the fortress of Constantinople on the cusp of the Ottoman conquest. There's Omeir, drafted into the sultan's army along with his two oxen. In present-day Idaho, there's troubled teen Seymour who believes a bomb is the only way to stop the destruction of forests for housing developments. Finally, there's young Constance, in the near future, on the Argos, an interstellar vehicle taking her and others to another star because Earth is becoming uninhabitable.

Tying all these characters together is their love of an ancient Greek story of Aethon. The author is the real Antonius Diogenes, but the story is fictional. It tells of the adventures of a shepherd, Aethon, who travels to a magical land in the sky, the "Cloud Cuckoo Land." This magical place has a special meaning for each character in Doerr's novel. This is a novel of dreaming, of imagination, of hope, and of the love of stories.

I'm not sure the story of the ancient manuscript, of which only fragments remain, is strong enough to tie all of the stories of Doerr's characters together. For me, the total is less than the sum of the parts. But the individual parts are worth the read each by itself. Doerr could have written four novels, there's so much potential here. If the connecting thread works for you, so much the better.

"Cloud Cuckoo Land" is available in hard copy and Kindle format from the Richardson Public Library. :-)

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