Tully Mahoney ’23
Anthony Doerr’s carefully crafted novel Cloud Cuckoo Land is yet another astonishing triumph for the author, who made waves in the literary world with All the Light We Cannot See in 2014. It’s nearly impossible to place this novel into one genre as it contains elements of fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, and fantasy. Cloud Cuckoo Land follows five characters whose timelines range from ancient Constantinople to the future. Originally, these characters do not appear to have any connection whatsoever, as their individual stories take place in distant settings, but Doerr magically brings them together in the final two hundred pages of the novel through their shared connection to a singular book that acts as a centerpiece in this story.
In 15th century Constantinople, two separate stories cross over: Anna and Omeir. Anna is an orphan, living in a women’s home making priest’s robes. Her curiosity leads her to learn to read and discover an ancient book in an illegal midnight escapade. She reads this story to her ill sister as the walls of Constantinople are sieged. Outside the walls, Omier, a village boy, debates his own choices.
Hundreds of years later, in 2020, in an Idaho library, a play based on the story Anna found is being performed by five children. Unknown to the actors, below them a young boy named Seymour has planted a bomb among the books, setting the stage for another siege.
The final story of this novel follows Konstance, who is alone in a vault in the spaceship Argos in the year 2146. She has only set foot on the Earth through an “Atlas” that teaches the children on the ship about where they came from. In this Atlas, when exploring her father’s hometown, she finds the ancient book that Anna found hundreds of years prior in Constantinople.
Although there are many different stories in Cloud Cuckoo Land, Doerr does an impressive job of keeping his readers engaged by using deep descriptions and wonderfully intertwined hints as to what is to come. Reading this novel feels like sorting through a puzzle until all the pieces finally click together. For some readers, this may be incredibly frustrating since it takes time to sort out all these fragments, but for other readers, it will be a whirlwind of adventure that entices them to grasp onto each page.
Cloud Cuckoo Land reminds the readers that “sometimes the things we think are lost are only hidden, waiting to be rediscovered.” This line is truly the main theme of the novel, as many of the characters come across loss in their life before eventually rediscovering a fragment of what they have lost in something previously unknown to them. Furthermore, Doerr dedicates this novel to “the librarians then, now, and in the years to come.” This suggests that Doerr believes that the books these libraries contain are the source of those rediscoveries. Doerr also bends the definition of truth throughout the novel, reminding readers that there may be some level of genuineness in wacky stories.
Cloud Cuckoo Land deserves a hesitant 4/5 stars. The withholding of the fifth star owes to the fact that this novel is incredibly intricate, so it’s difficult to give it a solid rating as well as because its length–622 pages–will make readers slightly impatient as they wonder how the various characters and their stories come together. Nonetheless, Doerr deserves high praise for the complexity and creativity of his imagination. Indeed, readers will end their journey with the book wondering how he came up with a novel so perfectly crafted.