One of the best-reviewed books of the year, Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr weaves together the stories of various characters in different time periods and features an ancient Greek manuscript that connects them all.
Set in Constantinople in the fifteenth century, in a small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship decades from now, Doerr’s third novel is imaginative and compassionate, a soaring story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril, who find resilience, hope, and a book. In Cloud Cuckoo Land, Doerr has created a magnificent tapestry of times and places that reflects our vast interconnectedness— with other species, with each other, with those who lived before us, and with those who will be here after we are gone.
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 the 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.
Like Marie-Laure and Werner in Doerr’s previous bestselling novel, All the Light We Cannot See, Anna, Omeir, Seymour, Zeno, and Konstance are dreamers and outsiders who find resourcefulness and hope in the midst of grave danger. Their lives are gloriously intertwined. Doerr’s imagination transports us to worlds so dramatic and immersive that we forget, for a time, our own. Dedicated to “the librarians then, now, and in the years to come,” Cloud Cuckoo Land is a beautiful and redemptive novel about stewardship— of the book, of the Earth, of the human heart.
The book may seem disorientating at first as it jumps back and forth through time, but the author masterfully draws the reader along for the ride with these well-written characters on their journey through their compelling plot lines.
Doerr has won numerous prizes for his fiction, including the Pulitzer Prize for All the Light We Cannot See and the Carnegie Medal. Cloud Cuckoo Land, published in September of 2021, was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr is available online and in bookstores.