Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Reviewed by Karen Lane, Need a Read
Oh, the joy of this wonderful new read from Anthony Doerr who won the Pulitzer Prize for All the Light We Cannot See. This is just such a satisfactory read which ends with all the pieces falling gloriously and deliciously into place.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is a book within a fabulous book! The book, in fact an archaic Greek text, is completely imagined by Doerr but he attributes it to a real writer of the ancient world, Antonius Diogenes. Doerr imagines that Diogenes has written a piece of entertainment for his niece, to distract and cheer her up during a life-threatening illness. It tells of a “a dull-witted mutton-headed lamebrain shepherd”, Aethon who longs to travel to an avian paradise he’s heard about, a city in the sky. To get to the city and enter it, Aethon must be a bird and not a human so he seeks help transforming himself into a bird. But the spell goes wrong and Aethon spends 80 years being a man, 1 year a donkey, 1 year a sea bass and 1 year a crow. As Elizabeth Knox says in the Guardian It is clear from the opening chapters of Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land that the novel’s characters, in their different time periods, will have something to do with this book inside a book, whether as champion, custodian or threat.

And so we follow the five characters living in three different times in history:

1439 Constantinople: There’s Omeir, a boy cursed at birth by his harelip, whose oxen have been requisitioned for the siege of Constantinople and separately, inside the besieged city, the orphaned seamstress Anna, also thirteen, desperately trying to care for her ill sister and determined to learn to read.

2020 Idaho: There’s 80 year old Zeno Ninis who, as the book opens, is directing a play he’s written for children at the local library. The rehearsal is terrifyingly interrupted by Seymour Stuhlman, who’s armed and carrying an explosive device. Seymour is a lonely, socially-challenged young man who has become a radical since developers encroached on the wilderness he loves.

Mid 22nd century: There’s a young teenager called Konstance who is traveling on a spacecraft in search of a more promising and habitable planet than the blighted Earth she and her fellow passengers have left behind.

This is such a wonderful read about interconnectedness – with each other, with other species, with those who lived before us and those who will come after us – and the need to take great care of them all. And, of course, it’s about the triumph and joy of books! Happy sigh!

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