Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Cloud Cuckoo Land

  Cloud Cuckoo Land
Author:  Anthony Doerr
Publication Information:  Scribner. 2021. 640 pages.
ISBN:  1982168439 / 978-1982168438

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "A fourteen-year-old girl sits cross-legged on the floor of a circular vault."

Favorite Quote:  "A text - a book - is a resting place for the memories of people who have lived before. A way for the memory to stay fixed after the soul has traveled on ... But books, like people, die too. They die in fires or floods or in the mouther of worms or at the whims of tyrants. If they are not safeguarded, they go out of the world. And when a book goes out of the world, the memory dies a second death."

Dictionaries and other sources have the following definitions of the term cloud cuckoo land:
  • to think that things that are completely impossible might happen, rather than understanding how things really are (Cambridge Dictionary)
  • a realm of fantasy or of whimsical or foolish behavior (Meriam Webster)
  • state of absurdly, over-optimistic fantasy or an unrealistically idealistic state of mind where everything appears to be perfect (Wikipedia)
In words from the book itself, "...And yet. When the stream of the old Greek picks up, and she climbs into the story, as though climbing the wall of the priory on the rock - handhold here, foothold there - the damp chill of the cell dissipates, and the bright, ridiculous world of Author takes its place."

That, in a nutshell, is this book. From 15th century Constantinople to 1940s Idaho to an interstellar spaceship in 2146, this book traverses time and space. At the heart of it all are children, often in impossible situations - a war, a hostage situation, a last hope for survival. In each, the story if about the innocence of children and about their ability to find hope and resilience.

The story is at times absurd, but it is this thread of children growing up and of hope is what ties the book together and leaves a lasting impression. The other thread running throughout is the magic of stories through the ages and the simultaneous power and fragility of stories. "Each sign signifies a sound, and to link sounds is to form words, and to link words is to construct worlds." Stories can provide anchors and wings. They can express our own thoughts often more eloquently than we can. At the same time, stories are so often forgotten and lost.

The title of the book itself is a story within a story. Cloud Cuckoo Land - the story and the place is made up. The supposed author Diogenes was real. However, none of his works are said to have survived. The tie in to the book is clear, emphasizing how easy it is for a story to be lost. The fact that this fictional invention survives through the ages in this book is a testament to the people who protect books and pass stories on down the generations. This book and its survival becomes the thread that pulls the disparate times and places and characters in this book into one cosmic vision.

In many ways, this book reminds me of David Mitchells works Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks - a cast of characters across time and place but with the same themes recurring throughout and a circular approach leaving a cohesive singular message.

For the survival of children, for the survival of books, for a lover letter to the power of stories and those who protect them, this will remain a memorable book for me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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