ALC Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

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. 

I didn’t even know this book existed before the beginning of October, when I unexpectedly received the audiobook. And because I’m a extreme mood reader, I forgot about all the arcs I’ve yet to read and my library borrows and picked this up, despite feeling that I might not like this.

And my instinct wasn’t wrong. The author’s writing is undoubtedly very beautiful and metaphorical but also too descriptive and wordy, and if I wasn’t listening to the two narrators do an excellent job in the audiobook, I don’t think I would have been able to finish the book. It’s also very ambitious – spanning multiple genres like historical fiction, contemporary as well as speculative fiction/ sci-fi; while also telling a story that spans across centuries. To add to this complexity are five POVs, multiple timelines, and another subplot which connects all the storylines while also rendering the name for this book. I can’t deny that I do enjoy multiple POVs because I’m a fan of ensemble casts, but the cast in this one are separated by time and they are very individualistic plotlines. And with the chapters being very short, we never get enough time at once to spend with one character and empathize with them. Not all are interesting either.

I think I loved Zeno and Konstance the most, with Zeno being my favorite with his penchant for surviving all obstacles in his life and finding joy in little things. I just kept wishing that he could see the results of his translation and how many hearts he touched, and maybe had found someone he loved and loved him back. Konstance is fascinating and I was impressed by her resourcefulness and resolve to find the truth, but one of the main twists of her plotline never got resolved and I’m still salty about it. While Anna and Omeir are the main catalysts behind how all these characters’ stories intersect, I found their parts pretty boring because they both are just waiting for the war to happen and ultimately nothing comes out of it. I probably felt more emotional about Omeir’s oxen Tree and Moonlight. And finally Seymour – he probably has the best character arc of everyone and we see so many facets of him, but I can’t say I was too engaged with his story knowing what he was gonna do. And I also found the choice to make the only neurodivergent character in the book an antagonist very telling, especially when it didn’t need to be so.

Ultimately, despite the multiple genres and centuries and characters, this is a story about books and stories and the connections they create. It’s an ode to the love of books, the power of literature in helping us survive, the joy of finding words which were once considered lost, and the importance of translating antiquated works. But this was not enough for me to love the book because the writing wasn’t for me. But if you are a fan of the author’s previous works, you might enjoy it a lot more.

6 thoughts on “ALC Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Add yours

  1. I have been eyeing this book for a while now, so I was excited to see that you reviewed it! The multiple POVs and the wordy writing scare me a little but I feel like I’ll stick pick this up because of the wonderful premise! Thanks for the great review, Sahi!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely very critically acclaimed and in the goodreads awards final round too… so I hope you’ll love it more than I did…
      And thank you for reading !!!

      Liked by 1 person

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