Happy Sunday, everyone! I know I’ve been gone a while, so I wanted to start with a little life update. I’m in my last semester of grad school now and in the depths of job hunting – since I’m not American, not finding a job basically equates to having to leave the country, which is a really scary thought after living here for the last ~7 years. Besides interview prep and school, I’ve also been writing a book, and I’m trying to get it in shape for Pitch Wars at the end of the month. Basically, I’ve probably bitten off more than I can chew but I’m doing my best and reading definitely has not stopped. With that said, here’s a review of an ARC that made me get off the couch and on my laptop because I couldn’t wait to share my thoughts.
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.
Overall rating: 5/5
Genre: Historical fiction, science fiction
Read if you loved: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
Content warnings: Murder, mental health struggles/neglect, harassment, bullying
Rarely do I feel *blessed* to have read a book. Cloud Cuckoo Land is a novel that I may have picked up, but I also might have entirely skipped, and wow would that have been an absolute shame. I did read Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize winning All the Light We Cannot See and while I liked it (a solid 4* read), I wasn’t as blown away as everyone else seemed to be. Based on that novel alone, I found his writing style to be very verbose, bringing the pace of the storytelling down significantly more than I would typically prefer, but his prose itself is so stunning that I was intrigued when I saw his new book on NetGalley. I was not prepared for the journey it took me on.
One thing I’d like to get out of the way: this is not an easy book to read. It requires significant brain power and patience so I would recommend holding off until you are prepared to provide what this novel demands. Doerr’s writing style is just as heavy handed with slow and extensive descriptions but in Cloud Cuckoo Land you have the additional issue of an incredibly complicated plot. You are following essentially 6-7 separate stories that are loosely interconnected but differ significantly in terms of time period. They vary in terms of pace and level of interest as well, making it very difficult to engage with the book as a whole, especially as it hops around between storylines very quickly. It took me about a week to read 30% of the book and I was partly putting it off because I recognized my brain wasn’t in a place to process all of the information but let me tell you something – once I crossed that point, there was no turning back.
People will tell you this book is slow and I’m here to confirm that it is. But I also could not put it down. I couldn’t keep my hands off my kindle once we crossed into the ~35% point and I can’t quite put my finger on what changed. Maybe it was my mental state, maybe it was that the storylines collectively became more engaging, or maybe it was that I suddenly woke up to what Doerr was trying to accomplish and was mesmerized. At its core, this is a book about hope, loss, and redemption. It is also a love letter to stories, to the comfort they provide, and the way in which they are able to transcend the most insurmountable circumstances through the efforts of their keepers. Once I was in the second half, I was eager to learn more about every single character and did not want it to end, no matter how long Doerr describes the same landscape in different beautiful terms. I was drinking in his language and his message, and I could not get enough. This book provoked every emotion across the spectrum leaving me deeply moved by the ending, and I know it will stick with me for a long time.
I think every reader needs to read this book, however, be aware of the issues beforehand. This book takes work to read but I can promise you the payoff is absolutely stunning. Like I mentioned before, this took me by surprise and is probably a contender for my favorite book of the year, which I never would have thought could be possible when I first picked it up. Thank you thank you thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This masterpiece hits the shelves on September 28th!