Cloud Cuckoo Land
Written by: Anthony Doerr
Fourth Estate London
Reviewed by: Ralph McAllister
Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for his desperately moving wartime story All the Light We Cannot See. The novel remains one of my favourites of the last decade. And now, we have Cloud Cuckoo Land, an epic of 600 pages, beginning and ending with a Greek myth and, in between, five stories which cover wonderful journeys of fantasy and reality. All are linked quite simply by books, ancient and modern.
We meet Konstance, with her parents in a spaceship Argos already having travelled 65 years from a ravished Earth, much of her time spent in the ship’s library exploring legends and what may or may not be truth. Anna lives in Constantinople in the 15th century awaiting the Muslim Sultan’s attack while secretly learning to read. Omeir has been living in a farm with his family and his oxen but has now been dragooned to help the Sultan, as this young boy is a master at controlling Moonlight and Tree, his adorable oxen. Zeno is introduced first in his eighties at the local library in modern day Lakeport Ohio, where he is rehearsing with a group of young children a play called Cloud Cuckoo Land. Seymour, a young ecoterrorist, has a bomb on the premises and is preparing to target local estate developments.
Each of these characters may survive and relate, but what is certain is their common belief in humanity. All the stories are brought together in a triumph of textual brilliance by an author at the top of his achievements. Doerr uses the Greek and English languages with challenges to the reader that will, by turns, exhilarate and demand absolute attention. But books and their survival are central to this extraordinary accomplishment.
“For the librarians then, now, and in the years to come”, is Doerr’s dedication.
And, of course, the last acknowledgment is to his dear readers.
“Without you I’d be all alone, adrift atop a dark sea, with no home to return to.”