By Adam Norris
Like a lot of readers, I’m a sucker for stories about stories, books about books. While there will never be a satisfactory explanation behind the magic of storytelling – or so I hope – there is such pleasure, such adventure in losing yourself in a good book that when you find those rare stories that balance craft, character, colour and narrative, you find yourself reluctant to leave. In the very least you feel the urge to share the story, to recommend the book to friends; to see it continue once it leaves your hands, in other words, which is a theme that sits at the very heart of Doerr’s evocative, mostly-wonderful new novel.
With a Pultizer Prize under his belt, there has certainly been some sizeable speculation on the novel Doerr would release next. Though ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’ is just as researched and historically nimble as ‘All The Light We Cannot See’, the canvas is significantly larger.
From 15 th century Constantinople, to the Korean War, to modern day Idaho and through to an unspecified point in our decades-distant future, we follow the life of a story – the eponymous Cloud Cuckoo Land by Antonius Diogenes, written around the end of the 1st Century but is, according to the text itself, sourced from tales much older still. Doerr’s narrative covers great swathes of time in alternating chapters, introducing us to some of the most memorable and truly compelling characters I’ve encountered this year (though it arrives towards the tail-end of 2021, it would certainly sit in my Top 3 books of the year).
The convergent histories of Anna and Omeir leading to the remarkably rendered siege of ancient Constantinople; the life of heartsore POW (and latter-day translator) Zeno Ninis, and of the damaged environmental warrior Seymour; the voyage of Konstance and her community aboard the Argos, arcing through space on an inter-generational mission of colonising a distant blue planet; and of the dozens of other lives who cross the pages of this
engaging epic (don’t get me started on Tree and Moonlight), this is a book overflowing with life, a story carried by its passion for story.
Sure, it dances with the Big Questions – mortality, redemption, love, history, death – but its engine is the delight of storytelling, of how we nestle knowledge and memory inside tales that may cross communities, oceans, that may, perhaps one day, cross stars.
I often paused in reading this, simply to acknowledge how moved I was by certain passages. You’ll find no better Summer read.