Book Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

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In Cloud Cuckoo Land, author Anthony Doerr weaves a complex and inventive tale about the enduring impact a good story can have throughout the centuries. Strong themes of resilience, hope, and compassion make this novel enjoyable and memorable.

Anthony Doerr won a Pulitzer for his wonderful novel, All the Light We Cannot See. In that story, two young people are caught up in the chaos of World War II and doing their best to survive. Cloud Cuckoo Land uses a similar device, and a single book/story is the mechanism that helps the young people in the story endure their struggles.

Let’s see if I can do justice to summarizing this multi-threaded story.

It all centers around the tale of Aethon, a shepherd in ancient Greece who wants to become a bird so he can fly to a mythical utopian city in the sky, Cloud Cuckoo Land. The story is part farce and part adventure, and illustrates some important lessons about life and human nature.

Anna is a girl in 15th century Constantinople when she discovers what might have been the last book that told Aethon’s story. Though moldy and in bed shape, the book nonetheless brings hours of delight and comfort to Anna and her dying sister. Also in this time period we learn about Omeir, a gentle boy who, along with his two beloved oxen, is conscripted into the army that lays siege to Constantinople. Eventually, the story of Aethon will also become part of Omeir’s life.

Part of the novel also takes place in 2020, in a small town in Idaho. Translating Aethon’s story from ancient Greek to English has brought a new sense of purpose and excitement into 86-year-old Zeno’s life. But while Zeno and five 5th graders are rehearsing in the library for a play based on the tale, something goes very wrong. Seymour, a troubled teenager, has planted a bomb in the library.

Another thread of Cloud Cuckoo Land takes place in the future on an interstellar space craft. Teenager Konstance has heard Aethon’s tale from her father, which has made it very meaningful to her. When she discovers that the ship’s digital library, which is supposed to contain everything ever published, doesn’t have a version of Aethon’s story, she frantically writes it down so that it will be remembered.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in Cloud Cuckoo Land – multiple threads across multiple centuries that the author deftly weaves into a cohesive story. That takes powerful storytelling skill!

I really enjoyed the book. Doerr creates such different but equally immersive worlds that I enjoyed exploring. The characters were extremely well-developed, and I cared what happened to them all. And the writing, just like in All the Light We Cannot See, is beautiful, often poetic.

But a warning – Cloud Cuckoo Land is long and you have to pay attention to keep all the different threads straight. It’s definitely not poolside reading!

If you have read Cloud Cuckoo Land, I’d love to hear your thoughts

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

  1. I read Cloud Cuckooland and did not like it! I became confused by the different threads (and, no, I wasn’t reading by the pool).
    I was paying attention. I expected to love this book, just as I loved All the Light We Cannot See. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep the characters in the different threads clear in my mind.
    It annoyed me. When I saw all the praise this book received, I figured I must have missed something.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this book. I felt the author succeeded in creating such a sweeping vista of experiences through time that I could observe the arc toward bending toward good. That alleviated the sadness of some individual events. So much creativity and imagination!


  3. Read this book for one of my bookclubs and remember enjoying it quite a bit — we actually read the first half in one month and the second half the next. I remember commenting on being slightly exasperated by Doerr’s habit of ending his chapters with cliffhangers as it seemed a bit of a cheap shot for such fine writing. I also was a bit disappointed with the fast-forward life of the two characters who get together but I guess their story was the union in Doerr’s writer mind. Since I missed the first month’s meeting I wound up reading the entire book in time for the second month’s meeting which was an excellent amount of time spent. Will definitely read Doerr’s Pulitzer winner next. Thanks for your non-spoiler reveiw for those interested in reading Cuckoo Land.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome! Thank you for commenting! I didn’t pick up that the author often ended his chapters with cliffhangers, but you’re right. Maybe he realized people with short attention spans like me would need some motivation to keep reading. And reading. And reading. 😉


  4. I read this earlier this summer and absolutely loved it! I was surprised I read the book as quickly as I did, (I finished in in about 4 days which is super speed for me,) mainly because I wasn’t a huge fan of All the Light We Cannot See. But, Doerr’s writing is unique and I felt like it really succeeded in making this story work & made the story feel like a true, literary epic. I can see this being taught or referenced to in school/English classes in the future – it just felt that grand!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting, Alyson! It’s interesting to think of the book being taught in school. There’s so much to it that it could probably fill an entire semester. And kudos for finishing it in four days! 🙂


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