Cloud Cuckoo Land
Rosie Cunningham, Sherborne Literary Society
'Cloud Cuckoo Land' by Anthony Doerr (4th Estate)
'Cloud Cuckoo Land' is the new book from Pulitzer Prize Winner Anthony Doerr, author of 'All the
Light We Cannot See’. This is a story within a story which begins with the words ‘Stranger, whoever
you are, open this to learn what will amaze you’. The ancient Greek tale from the first century CE, found in a tomb by Antonius Diogenes who transcribes it and dedicates it to his ailing niece, is a fabulous story about an 80-year-old shepherd who craves a better life. Aethon’s vision is to fly to a utopian city in the sky transformed as a ‘bright strong owl’, however, metamorphosed by supernatural magic, his journey begins as a donkey, then a sea bass and finally a crow before gaining entry to the city in the clouds. Once there, he realises that despite all its beauty, he was happier as a shepherd.
This storyline finds a parallel in the lives of four children from the past, present, and future, who face man-made cataclysmic events such as war, famine, climate disaster, contagious pandemics, and systematic disinformation.
In the mid-15th Century Anna, from Constantinople, meets up with Omeir from the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria, conscripted by the Sultan’s army to besiege the city, as they are both fleeing the battle. Anna has discovered an ancient wall fresco in a dilapidated archer’s turret and a long-forgotten stained, bound codex found in the ruins of an isolated island priory, both of which feature a city of silver and bronze towers in the clouds surrounded by birds. Omeir grew up listening to the fantastic stories told by his grandfather which fuel his imagination.
Seymour is brought up in poverty in 21st Century Idaho with undiagnosed ADHD. He forms a bond with Trustyfriend, a great grey owl, who is killed by creeping urbanisation and vows revenge. He plants a bomb in the local library where children are rehearsing the play 'Cloud Cuckoo Land' with their teacher, Zeno Ninis, who had translated the story from ancient Greek.
Konstance lives in the future in a windowless spaceship called the Argos hurtling towards a new planet called Beta Oph2. She is the only survivor of an onboard epidemic which has killed the rest of the people who had fled dying planet Earth. Everything is controlled by Sybil, the onboard computer. Eventually, Konstance, by following owl motifs, works out that her whole existence is a lie based on manipulation by others and that the Argos had never left Earth 65 years earlier.
'Cloud Cuckoo Land' is a magical storytelling of 622 pages, filled with intoxicating imaginative prose and creativity. Through the acquisition of knowledge comes wisdom and enlightenment, signified by the symbol of an owl. The author’s message is that we should cherish what we have. This book is a tale about man’s ignorance, carelessness and greed which is destroying our planet. The message is pertinent indeed.