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Whew. How to describe this ambitious, doorstopper, genre-bender of a book? Here goes:Cloud Cuckoo Land
combines historical fiction
, science fiction
, and contemporary eco-fiction
with a through-line of Greek mythology for an epic mash-up dedicated to librarians and book lovers
.Can you imagine? I couldn’t, but Anthony Doerr did–and surprisingly successfully. I won’t bother with trying to describe each storyline–they’re too disparate-seeming for brief descriptions to be any real draw. Rest assured that they do eventually come together. Doerr will benefit from the trust of readers who loved All the Light We Cannot See
–I am one of them, and I considered giving up on Cloud Cuckoo Land
early on, but for this trust.He did succeed in drawing me in and making me care about each of these characters and stories (except the Greek myth that connected them. I’m not a fan of mythology and this one seemed particularly ridiculous.).The myth and some nagging questions left unanswered bumped this down a bit for me (at 640 pages, another few would not have hurt anything). This will not be a book pressed into everyone’s hands, like ATLYCS was, but for a dedicated reader ready for a wild ride, Doerr makes it work.
Thirteen-year-old Anna, an orphan, lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople in a house of women who make their living embroidering the robes of priests. Restless, insatiably curious, Anna learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds a book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. This she reads to her ailing sister as the walls of the only place she has known are bombarded in the great siege of Constantinople. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, miles from home, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the invading army. His path and Anna’s will cross.Five hundred years later, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon’s story, preserved against all odds through centuries. Tucked among the library shelves is a bomb, planted by a troubled, idealistic teenager, Seymour. This is another siege. And in a not-so-distant future, on the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in a vault, copying on scraps of sacking the story of Aethon, told to her by her father. She has never set foot on our planet.