A sweeping story that spans the past, present, and future.
Anna, Omeir, Seymour, Zeno, and Konstance are dreamers and outsiders who find resourcefulness and hope in the midst of gravest danger. Each faces a challenge in their own time, but their stories call on us to reflect on our connections with others - both close to home and farther away.
I was so excited to have the opportunity to read Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. Doerr, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning All the Light We Cannot See, never fails to beautifully craft a story. I've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of this novel for several years now. The book is dedicated to, "the librarians then, now, and in the years to come," because they are the stewards of knowledge, helping to ensure that knowledge, even if only piece of it are passed on each generation. There is no doubt that this book is a love letter to reading, writing, and the intrepid folks that painstakingly stored and passed on manuscripts. There is a love of the written word that permeates the entire novel and is apparent in each of the very different character sections.
Cuckoo certainly feels like a novel of the pandemic. As a historian, one of the things that I love to look at, is the contemporary literature that stems from major world events. The Decameron by Bocaccio perfectly encapsulates the horror of the Black Death, Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter is about the all encompassing grief of losing a loved one and surviving the 1918 flu pandemic, and there are numerous examples of authors responding to war. Cloud Cuckoo will likely be one of the examples of that for the Covid-19. Each of the characters is undergoing some sort of siege and the claustrophobia waxes and wanes in a way that feels all too familiar in this moment. It's one of the most impressive aspects of an already impressive story.
"But books, like people, die too. They die in fires or floods or in the mouths of worms or the whims of tyrants. If they are not safeguarded, they go out of the world. And when a book goes out of the world, the memory dies a second death." -Licinius, Cloud Cuckoo Land
There are two things that are likely going to hinder some readers. The first is simply the length of the book. While I never felt like it was too long, it is a hefty read, and one that requires attention. The second is the changing protagonists and varied timelines. Much like Maggie Shipstead's Great Circle (keep an eye out for an upcoming review!), the jumping timeline will be a hurdle. The one benefit, in my opinion, is that each time period is very distinct. It felt like Doerr recognized the challenge of having a variety of voices and chose to keep the voices distinct with the change in style as the timeline changed.
All that to say, I adored this book and really savored the moments that I had with it. Once it was done, I had a serious book hangover because it hit all the right spots for me.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Scribner for allowing me early access in exchange for an honest review. Cloud Cuckoo Land is available September 28, 2021 at a bookshop near you!
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