Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr


What an amazing novel!  A group of people, separated by centuries, are united through the story of Aethon, a fable in which a sheepherder is turned into a donkey, a fish and a crow, learning about life as he goes.  There is Anna, an orphan in a house of women who embroider for the church, who learns to read and who finds a book with the story.  She escapes the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and takes little besides the book.  Outside the walls, with the siege army determined to take the city, is Omeir.  He knows little about the war or its purpose.  He was conscripted to join the fighting force when it needed his oxen to pull about heavy implements of war.  

Fast forward five hundred years and we meet Zeno.  He met the love of his life while a prisoner of war in Korea and the story of the foolish sheepherder united the two men in their travails and gave Zeno's life a purpose.  Once he goes back to the United States, he spends his retirement in the town library, painstakingly translating Aethon's story from the original language from a rediscovered manuscript that is torn and tattered, stained and missing pages and words.  He shares the story with a group of fifth graders who soon learn to love the story and the man who shares it with them.  He saves their lives on the day that a misguided teen comes into the library with bombs, determined to destroy the establishment that has never had time for him or his mother.

Fast forward again and we meet Konstance.  She has grown up on a spaceship, one that fled the Earth's destruction from climate change and that is headed to a new planet.  That planet will not be reached during any of the crew's lifetimes so they are a wish and a prayer that their descendants can reach the new planet and give man another chance.  As she reads Aethon's story, she starts to put together her father's love of it with clues around her to discover a bigger truth than the ones she has grown up with.

My only regret is reading this marvelous novel so early in the year.  It is hard to imagine that I will read a better one this year.  The intricate stories of each character and the way their lives are intertwined over the centuries through love of a story is an amazing plotline and one that Doerr manages magnificently.  I can easily see this novel being my top read of 2023 and it would be a travesty if it doesn't win major literary awards.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers, historical fiction readers and anyone who enjoys a wonderful book.

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