Perhaps the most amazing things about Cloud Cuckoo Land are the beauty of Anthony Doerr’s prose and the skillful handling of many different characters, settings and time periods. The various threads of the story find their way to intersect in a very satisfying way. That process begins before we near the end of the book as characters begin to be brought together. It is interesting is that the main characters are children which is fitting since while bad things happen in the story, children are, in the end, our real source of hope.
We are introduced to Cloud Cuckoo Land by Antonius Diogenes. The Diogenes codex which is discovered by Anna is not in very good shape, and throughout the story we read folios of it with missing words as translated by Zeno Ninis in 2020. Zeno is a prominent part of the story from his time as a soldier in Korea where he meets Rex whom he loves to his working with a group of children in the library in Lakeport, Idaho. Anna and her sister, Maria, are embroideresses, a job at which Maria does beautifully and Anna does not do well at all. However, Anna is willing to take risks which is why she is working with a boy to scale the wall of a priory to try to find things to sell, and the codex is something she finds.
Anna is in Constantinople and some two hundred miles away, a baby had been born, perfect in every way except for a cleft palate which frightens some people. Still a boy, Omeir and his team of oxen are conscripted by the army and forced along with other teams to pull an extremely heavy cannon over difficult terrain. The treatment of these animals in this caravan is enough to make one weep.
In Lakeport, Idaho, over a several years in the 2000s, we meet Seymour and his mother, Bunny, trying her best to keep things together. Something is not quite right with Seymour who can’t stand tags in his underwear and hates the sound of certain cereals inside their packaging. Both he and Zeno have a connection to the library in Lakeport.
And aboard the space ship, Argos, we find Konstance whose has been left in a Vault by her father with all the necessary provisions. Her only companion is a computer named Sybil who monitors Konstance’s life. However, Konstance is able, using something called the Atlas, to travel to many places, and she begins to think that all is not as it seems. Readers will, I think, be surprised by what she discovers.
All of these characters play important roles in this novel and the intersections among them unfold as the novel progresses. I want to close with part of a note from the author that appears in the advance reader copy. Doerr says to booksellers, librarians and readers, “I tried to pour all of my love for our astonishing, green, wounded world into this novel. There are children here, and teachers, and libraries large and small, and two brave oxen, and a great gray owl, but primarily this is a book about our planet – in itself a vast library – and the stories that connect us.” This is a wonderful story, and one that will stay with you.