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BookBrowse Reviews Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

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Cloud Cuckoo Land

A Novel

by Anthony Doerr

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr X
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2021, 640 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2022, 640 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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A tour de force from the Pulitzer-prize winning author of All the Light We Cannot See.

Anthony Doerr's Cloud Cuckoo Land may be even more remarkable than his Pulitzer-prize winning work All the Light We Cannot See. This marvelously imaginative tale crosses time and genre, ultimately weaving a story that captivates readers in a way few can; simply put, it's dazzling.

The third-person narrative rotates between several storylines. Konstance is a teenager, a colonist living on a spaceship headed to a far-away planet in the 22nd century. Born in transit, she has never set foot on Earth, and the ship's journey is long enough that her generation will be long dead before the vessel reaches its destination. Zeno, an octogenarian, is at a library in current-day Boise, Idaho, rehearsing children for a play he wrote, while a young man, Seymour, is committing an act of ecoterrorism elsewhere in the building. Other plot lines explore Zeno's and Seymour's youths, leading readers to understand how they each arrived at this point. And finally, Anna and Omeir are children during the Fall of Constantinople (1453 CE, see Beyond the Book), one Christian and one Muslim, on opposite sides of the city's famous Theodosian Walls.

Doerr ties these disparate tales together through a story called Cloud Cuckoo Land, a book he imagines to have been written by the ancient Greek author Antonius Diogenes. In it, Aethon, a shepherd, desires to fly to a utopian civilization in the sky and seeks a magical means to transform into a bird to achieve this end. The fact that the book's extended title is Aethon: Lived 80 Years a Man, 1 Year a Donkey, 1 Year a Sea Bass, 1 Year a Crow is some indication of how he fares. Each of Doerr's characters encounters this work in their youth and attaches great sentimental significance to it, and their love for the story is what allows it to be preserved for future generations.

There are so many extraordinary things about this complex novel that it's hard to know where to begin. It defies classification, alternating between contemporary fiction, historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy, and Doerr handles each of the genres superbly. The stories themselves are fascinating, too. When I encounter books with multiple plot lines, I often find myself preferring one over the others, but not so here. Each of the narratives drew me in completely, and while sorry to transition away from a story I was enjoying, I nevertheless greeted the next with eager anticipation. Every last character is unique and vibrant, and I grew to love and understand each of them, even a young man about to cause death and destruction. And, of course, there's Doerr's prose, which is heartbreakingly beautiful at times; there's plenty of gorgeous description, but it's never so dense that it slows down the book's pace. It's truly amazing that he is able to weave so many people, events and themes into such an immensely satisfying tale, and I'm in awe of his achievement.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is much more ambitious than All the Light We Cannot See. It's longer, more complex, and has a lot of moving parts that don't seem to relate to each other until the book nears its conclusion. I personally found Cloud Cuckoo Land considerably more entertaining and believe it's a stronger work than Doerr's previous novel. If I have any complaint at all, it's that the book's ending isn't as complete as I'd have liked. All the plot threads wrap up nicely except for Konstance's, and although her story's conclusion is appropriate it still left me with questions. Every other aspect is so outstanding, though, that this minor nitpick should deter no one from reading this wonderful work.

I've been fortunate to have read some truly exceptional books this year, but absolutely nothing compares to Cloud Cuckoo Land. It's one of those books that's sure to generate a lot of buzz and garner much acclaim — it may well be the "must-read" book of the year — and I highly recommend it for all audiences.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2021, and has been updated for the October 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  The Fall of Constantinople

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