I drove over two hours in 2016 to see Anthony Doerr, as one does when one is nerdy and obsessed with an author and in school to become a librarian. I remember clutching my copy of All the Light We Cannot See and being completely enamored. For an exercise in curiosity, Doerr presented a slideshow full of close-up pictures and asked us to guess the everyday objects. He described how a dropped call on the subway in New York City in 2004 was the inspiration behind All the Light We Cannot See, and how he spent ten years researching and writing the book, including studying the history of radio and Nazi art looting. When he signed my book, I remember him taking the time to ask about my weekend and wishing me a happy birthday. So needless to say, I was excited to get my hands on Cloud Cuckoo Land.
Cloud Cuckoo Land is ambitious novel, spanning multiple centuries, places, characters, and even genres. There’s Anna, an orphan who lives and works in an embroidery house in 15th century Constantinople with her sickly older sister. She learns Greek in secret and during her quest to uncover even more words, she discovers a ruined library. Having a cleft palate and believed to be cursed or even demonic, Omeir is exiled to a remote part of Bulgaria and is raised by his whimsical, sweet grandfather. He is conscripted into the Ottoman army with his oxen to attack Constantinople, putting him directly in the path of Anna. Seymour lives in present-day Idaho and his only comfort is the natural world. He befriends an owl that lives in the woods behind his home but when the forest is destroyed for a new housing development, Seymour becomes a radical eco-warrior and crosses paths with Zeno in a devastating way. Zeno is an octogenarian, amateur translator, and Korean War veteran attempting to put on a play with a small group of children. Lastly, there’s Konstance. Konstance is trapped on a spaceship in the future with an infinite library meant to preserve humanity’s knowledge for a new, unspoiled planet. All five stories are connected through an ancient book following the fantastical and humorous adventures of a poor shepherd. Doerr’s writing is just as lyrical and rich as in All the Light We Cannot See. The novel is a clear ode to libraries, language, and the art of storytelling. While I wasn’t as invested in the characters as with All the Light We Cannot See, no one can illustrate the interconnectedness and beauty of our worlds like Anthony Doerr. Cloud Cuckoo Land is an epic worth diving into.
Don’t miss the chance to see Anthony Doerr this spring. Doerr is part of the 2021-2022 William N. Skirball Writers Center Stage Series presented by the Cuyahoga County Public Library. He’ll be speaking at the Maltz Performing Arts Center on Monday, May 2, 2022 at 7:30 pm. A virtual ticket option is also available. Find more information about Doerr’s visit here. Also, Doerr has a wonderful booklist on his website if you’d like to dive into worlds similar to Cloud Cuckoo Land. Check out the list here. Cloud Cuckoo Land is available at the library here.