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626 pages, Hardcover
First published September 28, 2021
Sometimes the things we think are lost are only hidden, waiting to be rediscovered.Anthony Doerr has written a masterpiece of a tale, connecting five characters, over hundreds of years through their relationship to a single book. Cloud Cuckoo Land is an ancient story written by Antonius Diogenes around the first century C.E. (Only in the novel. While the author is real, the book was made up.) It tells of a shepherd, Aethon, seeking a magical, heavenly place in the sky, the “Cloud Cuckoo Land” of the title. Each of the five characters are introduced to this story, and we see how it impacts their lives. Each has characteristics that set them apart. But all have lost, or lose, at least one parent.
I’m getting close to 50. And though I still feel and behave like a kid most of the time, my eyesight is fading, I can apparently injure myself while sleeping and my little baby boys are suddenly big hairy-legged job-working car-driving high school kids. I’m realizing that everything—youth, hairlines, memories, civilizations—fades. And the amazing technology that is a printed book seems to be one of the few human inventions that has outlived whole human generations. What a privilege it is to open a book like The Iliad and summon tales that entertained people almost 3,000 years ago.The folks doing most of the preserving are librarians of one sort or another. Each of the characters has a relationship with a librarian, Zeno and Seymour with the librarians in Lakeport, Idaho, Anna with scribes in Constantinople, Omeir with Anna, and Konstance with the AI controller of her ship.
I hope that my readers will be reminded that librarians serve as stewards of human memory—without librarians, we lose perhaps our most important windows into the human journey. - from the QBD interviewPart of his growing-up environment was spending a lot of time in libraries as his teacher mom often made use of them as a form of day care for Doerr and his brothers. It’s not like he minded. In fact, he even dedicated the book to librarians.
They were a place where I felt completely safe. And just the miracle of them, there's something that - talk about peeling the scales off your eyes. Like, here's the work of all these masters available to you for free. And you can take them home. - from the NPR interviewAs with All the Light…, Doerr found inspirations for the elements of the book in diverse places. It was while researching the walls at Saint Malo for his prior book that he came across repeated references to the millennium-long impenetrability of the walls of Constantinople, and dug into that a lot deeper. He is also interested in how technology induces change. In All the Light… it was radio. Here it is gunpowder and advanced armaments in the 15th century, allowing a new level of violence in the assault on supposedly impervious walls. In the contemporary world it is the internet allowing in both a world of information and a cannonade of lies and manipulation. He sees the future as being driven by artificial intelligence.
“That’s the real joy,” Doerr said, “the visceral pleasure that comes from taking these stories, these lives, and intersecting them, braiding them.” - from the NY Times interviewMirroring is employed extensively as the experiences of all five characters (and Aethon) repeat in one form or another for them all.
He had hit upon this approach for the most practical of reasons. As a parent, he couldn’t hope to get more than an hour or two of solid work done before having to attend to shuttling the boys to swim practice or some other activity. “I might have stumbled accidentally into that,” he said. - from the NY Times interviewWhile there are dark events that take place in this novel, the overall feel is one of optimism, of possibility, of persistence, and of the availability of beauty and hope to all, if only we can keep alive our connections to each other through time and place, keep alive hopes for a better place, for a better, meaningful life, and continue to dream impossible dreams. If you read nothing else this year, do yourself a favor and read Cloud Cuckoo Land, and be transported (no wings required) to a literary paradise by this book, which I hope will be read as long as there are people able to read. It is a heavenly book, and an immediate classic.
“Repository,” he finally says, “you know this word? A resting place. A text—a book—is a resting place for the memories of people who have lived before. A way for the memory to stay fixed after the soul has traveled on.”
His eyes open very widely then, as though he peers into a great darkness.
“But books, like people, die too. They die in fires or floods or in the mouths of worms or at 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.”
So many words! It would take seven lifetimes to learn them all.Have mercy! That's how I felt reading this monstrosity of a book. So many descriptions... it would take seven lifetimes to read them all. Sigh.
“The world we’re handing our kids brims with challenges: climate instability, pandemics, disinformation. I wanted this novel to reflect those anxieties, but also offer meaningful hope, so I tried to create a tapestry of times and places that reflecs our interconnectedness—with other species, with each other, with the ones who lived before us, and the ones who will be here after we’re gone.”—Anthony Doerr
“Repository… you know this word? A resting place. A text—a book—is a resting placefor the memories of people who have lived before. A way for the memory to stay fixed after the soul has traveled on.”
“Each sign signifies a sound, and to link sounds is to form words, and to link words is to construct worlds.”
“Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you.”