Review by Kerry Brogan
“The world as it is enough.”
Absurd optimism, naivety and absolute craziness is what springs to mind when we hear the expression cloud cuckoo. It has been and continues to be employed by politicians to scorn and deride, however it was the Greek playwright Aristophanes who first used the phrase in his 414BCE comedic play The Birds. Fragments of this ancient text impacts on and unites the beautifully drawn characters of Cloud Cuckoo Land, a sweeping epic of over 600 pages.
Sliding through time and space - Constantinople in 1453, Idaho in 2020 and an unspecified location in the future, Doerr has created a rich tapestry of connections and a belief in the future. At times I found the sheer scale of the story almost overwhelming with its disparate eras and slipping genres but was anchored by the aging of the main characters. I also made a decision to just go with it, trusting the author would reveal all, and he did.
Our drive for knowledge and hunger for stories as a response to our need to make sense of the world, is underscored by the depiction and use of libraries throughout this highly imaginative text. As repositories of tales tall and true their shelves reflect shifting landscapes and philosophies. They provide shelter to and encourage the inquisitive, are safe havens for study, quiet contemplation, and flights of imagination, they are also not immune to attack. Doerr dedicates this book to librarians, recognizing their importance and the hope that their relevance will continue to be honoured into the future. There are warnings signalled throughout the book - for our environment and the dangers of self-deception (satirized in the translation of The Birds), but for me the main thrust of this novel is the importance of not losing sight of what connects us.