Reviewed in the United States on September 28, 2021
It only happens about once every 15 or 20 years: Poisonwood Bible. Lonesome Dove. Now Cloud Cuckoo Land: a book that I will talk about forever, a book that changed the way I think about the world.
How much should I write? There is a magic in discovering it for yourself, how all these pieces fit together to answer the most essential question we are all facing in 2021: is the world ending? And if so, how do we go on?
Anthony Doerr addresses this question in no expected ways: by telling the story of Anna, an orphan living behind the walls of Constantinople under siege in 1409, who climbs a rock wall to discover hidden treasures; Omeir, a "demon" boy with a cleft palate, who is conscripted into the invading army because of the strength of his beloved oxen Tree and Moonlight; the story of Seymour in Idaho 2020, a budding environmental terrorist after the loss of his beloved great owl friend; and of Zeno, an 86 year old man hiding in the library as Seymour plants his bomb; and of Konstance, on a space station hundreds of years after the end of Earth, hurtling towards a planet that she will never live to see.
And interwoven among them all, a myth of Aegon, the shepherd who longs for a better world, who sets off to find that elusive Eden in the sky, Cloud Cuckoo Land.
It reads like three stories in one; the story of Constantinople, Omeir and Anna; of Idaho, Zeno and Seymour, and of the space station, with Konstance; and amidst them all, the myth of Aegon.
There is writing so gorgeous that I had to stop and read it again; writing, especially, about the power of story itself, how stories can be magic, can save our lives, can give our lives meaning.
Above all else, this is a story about our longing for a better world, what we owe to each other in this one, and whether it is possible -- even a little bit possible --- to hope, in the face of unimaginable hardship, that a better world might still exist, maybe even, possibly, not so far away as Cloud Cuckoo Land, not so far away as the clouds in the sky.