Yep. I’m back. And I mean it this time. Here’s a review as proof. It’s only #26 for the year, according to Goodreads, which, with the exception of last year, is pretty low for me. I’m going to change that in 2022 because I miss reading terribly. I’m planning a short roundup of this year’s books, which I hope I’ll publish shortly.
Forgive the rough review – it’s been what? six or seven years since I’ve written a proper one? I should also mention that I’ve only just finished reading the novel. I know that if I waited to write about it, I wouldn’t.
I’ve been trying to think of the best way to describe this novel and what Doerr is trying to accomplish in it. In the Author’s Note at the end of Cloud Cuckoo Land, Doerr says it’s “intended as a paean to books,… built upon the foundations of many other books.” That’s the best way I can describe the story, which shows four stories combining into one. There is only one story, after all.
So. There are four stories. They all revolve around a lost novel (of Doerr’s creation) by Antonius Diogenes called Cloud Cuckoo Land. This novel begins in a public library in 2020 where five kids and an 86-year-old man named Zeno are rehearsing a play of Cloud Cuckoo Land on the upper floor when a man named Seymour enters the bottom floor with a backpack filled with explosives. Next, we move to 13th century Constantinople, which is under siege by the Ottomans. We follow Anna, an embroideress from Constantinople, and Omeir, an Ottoman who is forced to drive his two oxen from his village to help with the siege effort. Later, we meet Konstance in Mission Year 65, aboard a spaceship bound for another planet because Earth has been damaged by climate change, warfare, etc. Cloud Cuckoo Land weaves in and out of these stories throughout the novel.
I’m not going to give any more away. Maybe that was too much. Cloud Cuckoo Land is DEFINITELY worth a read. It’s a big novel, but it reads surprisingly quickly. It contains magic of the sort I’ve only found recently in Lincoln in the Bardo and The Overstory. The story is beautifully woven and written.
I’d never read anything by Doerr, but All the Light We Cannot See will be near the top of my TBR list after this one.
A couple of my favorite quotes without context so to avoid spoilers:
“One’s life is more formed, I sometimes think, by books than by human beings: it is out of books one learns about love and pain at second hand. Even if we have the happy chance to fall in love, it is because we have been conditioned by what we have read, and if I had never known love at all, perhaps it was because my father’s library had not contained the right books.”
“In a life you accumulate so many memories, your brain constantly winnowing through them, weighing consequence, burying pain, but somehow by the time you’re this age you still end up dragging a monumental sack of memories behind you, a burden as heavy as a continent, and eventually it becomes time to take them out of the world.”
Read this one. It’s worth your time.