Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his previous book, All the Light We Cannot See (one of my all-time favorite books), has written a new book and while it is vastly different from the previous one, it has many of the same threads running through it – parallel lives converging, stories passed down through time and lessons to learn from history. It also shares beautiful writing and compelling characters

Cloud Cuckoo Land follows the lives of five people – Konstance, a young girl who is the only survivor on a spaceship bound for a distant planet; Seymour, a troubled teen in Idaho who is devastated by the ecological destruction he sees; Zeno, who lost his father to World War II, endured time as a POW in the Korean War then spent a quiet life working for the county; Anna, a young girl apprenticed to nunnery in a Constantinople about to fall to invading forces in 1453; and Omeir, born with a cleft palate and considered a demon, but saved by his grandfather.  All of these lives have a connection to an ancient Greek text, a comic story that was told to a child. How this story reaches each person, how it influences and changes their lives, how their lives intersect even across centuries makes an engaging story. In Doerr’s hands it becomes a masterpiece.

I will warn you though – there are a lot of moving pieces in this book. I’ve always enjoyed books that jump around in time and show different perspectives, but not everyone does. I found the start a little confusing, simply because I didn’t have a handle on the time jumps. However, it quickly became a can’t-put-down, what-happens-next kind of book for me. The writing style is beautiful with descriptions that transport you to each location and to each character’s point-of-view simply and quickly – you can almost feel the growing fear in Constantinople as the city is laid to siege, the cold and snow of an Idaho winter, the impersonal and metallic isolation of Konstance’s room.

This is a beautiful tribute to the enduring power of stories and books and the people that create them. Highly recommended.

 

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