Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr 2021

I’ll begin by saying that I was absolutely enthralled by this book, its unique structure, creative plot, life-like characters, intensely real-feeling settings, and beautiful writing.  I’ll also have to admit to being initially confused about the author’s intent and often being lost or at least confused by the book’s twists and turns.

Doerr, whose prior book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, has once again tackled a complex period and found a way to highlight the good as well as the evil in humanity.  While “All the Light We Cannot See” dealt with WWII, this book ranges from ancient Greece to Constantinople in 1453, from Lockport, Idaho in the 1970’s to the spaceship Argos traveling from earth in some future time that is not specified other than the mission day.  In those settings, Doerr places interesting and fully-developed characters who demand our compassion and interest.  Anna and Omeir inhabit the 15th C crossroads for the Christian and Ottoman empires; Zeno Ninis, Seymour Stuhlman and his mother, Bunny, Marian the Librarian, and five 5th graders inhabit Lockport; Konstance and her parents along with Sybil inhabit the Argos in its 65th year in the 22nd Century on its way to Beta Oph2, an earth-like planet that can be reached in 592 years.

I never read reviews of the books I’ve read until after I’ve written my own and seldom include quotes from those reviews, but the New York Times review had the following paragraph which is a perfect summary of Doerr’s accomplishment:  It’s a wildly inventive novel that teems with life, straddles an enormous range of experience and learning, and embodies the storytelling gifts that it celebrates. It also pulls off a resolution that feels both surprising and inevitable, and that compels you back to the opening of the book with a head-shake of admiration at the Swiss-watchery of its construction.

Somehow, Doerr pulls all of these threads together through the use of a 1st C C.E. manuscript in ancient Greek telling the story of Aetheon, a fool who seeks a heaven-like world and learns through his Ulysses-like adventures, that there’s no place better than home.  The novel’s characters learn that as well, while their stories are all woven together through the ancient manuscript Cloud Cuckoo Land of Antonius Diogenes, showing how it is the book and its survival that enables not just the characters in this novel, but all of humanity to learn, to move forward, and perhaps to become wiser and less violent.

This is a wonderful very big book (and I don’t mean just its 625 pages).  Much like I felt after reading “All the Light”, I am in awe of Doerr’s talent and know I would get much more if I read this book a second and third time.