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The Search for Hope in the Midst of Chaos - an Editorial Review of "Cloud Cuckoo Land"



Resharing from Inkling Reviews


Book Title: Cloud Cuckoo Land


Author: Anthony Doerr


Author Bio:


Anthony Doerr has won numerous prizes for his fiction, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Carnegie Medal. His novel, 'All the Light We Cannot See,' was a #1 New York Times Bestseller and his new novel, 'Cloud Cuckoo Land,' published in September of 2021, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Learn more at www.anthonydoerr.com



Editorial Review:


There is magic in this place, the owl seems to say. You just have to sit and breathe and wait and it will find you.


What does an ancient story by Diogenes, a young 15th-century girl raised by nuns, a 15th-century boy with a cleft lip and two pet oxen, a 20th-century autistic boy, an owl named TrustyFriend, an aging Korean War Vet with a knack for Greek, and a young futuristic girl on a spaceship all have in common? They all have in common this one immersive story told by Anthony Doerr, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “All the Light You Cannot See”.


Time. Day after day, year after year, time wipes the old books from the world.... The things that look fixed in the world, child – mountains, wealth, empires – their permanence is only an illusion. We believe they will last, but that is only because of the brevity of our own lives. From the perspective of God, cities like this come and go like anthills.


In retrospect, this story is quite difficult to explain, yet so intensely satisfying that the prose and the story are sure to stay with the reader forever. Throughout the winding tale, the perfectly woven centuries and characters, the reader is enthralled with how the author presents this fantastical literary feast in such a believable way.


And yet. When the stream of the old Greek picks up, and she climbs into the story, as though climbing the wall of the priory on the rock – handhold here, foothold there – the damp chill of the cell dissipates, and the bright, ridiculous world of Aethon takes its place.


For those who love life-changing literary works, this is a must-read – a book that transcends and soars high above the vast field of books, the same as his characters seek to soar above the stacks and stacks of chaos mounting against them. With finesse, the author addresses relevant issues facing all of humanity – is this the end of times? How do you deal with isolation? With pandemics? With wars? With self-doubt? With feeling like an 'odd duck' in a world where acceptance, approval, and beauty are prized? AND how will the past connect us with our present and on into our future. Not only that, but Doerr pays homage to all the incredible past literary works which still flow to us today, as if the authors of the past (like Diogenes) speak to us and help us escape our present turmoils. After all, isn't that what books do?


Why can't healing happen as quickly as wounding? You twist an ankle, break a bone – you can be hurt in a heartbeat. Hour by hour, week by week, year by year, the cells in your body labor to remake themselves the way they were the instant before your injury. But even then you're never the same: not quite.


Anna is a young orphan girl living in Constantinople facing siege by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in 1409 when she discovers a hidden treasure within a ruin, a small goat-skinned leather book which tells the tale of Aethon, a Greek adventurer who claims to have lived a life searching for Cloud Cuckoo Land, a paradise in the clouds with wine rivers and honey cakes on the backs of turtles, while being transformed into a donkey, a fish, and a raven. The story helps her cope with the bleak future facing the city. Along with her story, we meet Omeir, a boy with a cleft lip and palate who is conscripted into the army which is coming against Constantinople, and whose best friends are his beloved oxen team, Tree and Moonlight. He is shunned as a 'demon child' with a horrific face, yet his kind and mild manner lead him to later coming in contact with Anna, and with the story of Aethon. Next, we have the story of Seymour in 2020 Idaho, an autistic boy who loves the outdoors, who abhors repetitive sounds, and has a beloved owl named TrustyFriend whose faithfulness of being always present in the woods near his home gives him comfort. However, when progress destroys the forest, with new subdivisions popping up, and TrustyFriend loses his woody home, something sparks in Seymour and he transforms into a terrorist intent on destroying those who took something precious away from him. His bomb-planting cause brings him into contact with Zeno, an 86 year old Korean War Vet whose life has led him to translating the Greek story of Aethon into English, as well as telling the story to a group of youngsters at a nearby library in Seymour's Idahoan hometown. Again, for Zeno, and for the kids, the story helps them to cope with past losses, with present dangerous circumstances, and with an uncertain future. One of the girls at the library is the great-grandmother of the next character, Konstance, who is told the story by her father as they speed across vast space, escaping the ruin of Earth to a new planet discovered to be another Earth, one awaiting this ship full of hopeful evacuees.


Of all the mad things we humans do, Rex once told him, there might be nothing more humbling, or more noble, than trying to translate the dead languages. We don't know how the old Greeks sounded when they spoke; we can scarcely map their words onto ours; from the very start, we're doomed to fail. But in the attempt, Rex said, in trying to drag something across the river from the murk of history into our time, into our language; that was, he said, the best kind of fool's errand.


This three-story-melded-into-one is threaded together by Aethon's story of the search for a better world, the longing, the hope, the desperation, in the face of seemingly unbearable circumstances. As children we all dream of that elusive magical castle in the cloud-filled sky, and as adults, especially in today's society, we still maintain that dream deep inside – a divine inner longing built into our DNA – but time and unforeseen occurences transform our day-to-day lives and our hopes of ever reaching that dream fades with each new horrific news story in the headlines. Doerr helps us to remember, as all great books and storytellers should do, in the most exquisite and luscious prose imaginable. While leaning more on the literary side of fiction, with a splash of fantasy, this story does offer an insight into the historical world of ancient Greek life and stories, as well as life in 15th century Constantinople, however it is more character driven as the reader connects on a very profound way to each of the main characters in the book. Just as Diogenes' tale, this is one that will span the ages.


*****


“Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr receives five stars and the "Award of Excellence" from The Historical Fiction Company



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