Cloud Cuckoo Land
October 2021 Indie Next List
— Julie Slavinsky, Warwick's, La Jolla, CA
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“If you’re looking for a superb novel, look no further.” —The Washington Post
From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of All the Light We Cannot See, comes the instant New York Times bestseller that is a “wildly inventive, a humane and uplifting book for adults that’s infused with the magic of childhood reading experiences” (The New York Times Book Review).
Among the most celebrated and beloved novels of recent times, Cloud Cuckoo Land is a triumph of imagination and compassion, a soaring story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril, who find resilience, hope, and a book.
In the 15th century, an orphan named Anna lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople. She learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds what might be the last copy of a centuries-old 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. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the army that will lay siege to the city. His path and Anna’s will cross.
In the present day, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno rehearses 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.
Anna, Omeir, Seymour, Zeno, and Konstance are dreamers and outsiders whose lives are gloriously intertwined. Doerr’s dazzling imagination transports us to worlds so dramatic and immersive that we forget, for a time, our own.
Praise For Cloud Cuckoo Land: A Novel…
*WINNER OF THE READING THE WEST BOOK AWARD*
*FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION*
“Sweeping and atmospheric.”
“A magical (and hopeful) tale of humanity.”
“As intimate as a bedtime story, a love letter to libraries and bibliophiles.”
“A dazzling epic of love, war, and the joy of books.”
“A novel of epic stature and ambition.”
“[An] intricately braided story . . . [and] a stunning, mind-bending tale of survival and how closely we’re all connected.”
"Doerr works literary magic to tell three cleverly entwined stories set centuries apart, celebrating children, and the natural world, and always, especially, libraries. We'll be talking about this one for a long time."
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Packed with lush details and a gripping narrative.”
—Keziah Weir, Vanity Fair
“A trip well worth taking with the inimitable Doerr.”
—Rob Merrill, Associated Press
“Of all our contemporary fiction writers, Anthony Doerr is the one whose novels seem to be the purest response to the primal request: tell me a story. . . . [Cloud Cuckoo Land] transports us far above the stars, and down into the mud. It dazzles, and disturbs. And I for one wanted Doerr’s vast and overwhelming story to last much, much longer.”
—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“Sprawling and ambitious and imaginative. . . . [Doerr] is a writer with the rare ability to achieve the universal and the specific simultaneously. His stories, both vast and intimate, are dazzling, sometimes dizzying in their scope. . . . [Cloud Cuckoo Land] is unlike anything you’ve ever read.”
—Samantha Schoech, San Francisco Chronicle
“Readers will come away from it with a greater appreciation for those invisible qualities that have bound human life across the ages—the love of a good story and the joy of returning home.”
—Samantha Spengler, Wired
“There’s no book like Cloud Cuckoo Land… the story is mesmerizing, and the carefully-crafted tapestry of themes pulls characters and time periods together into an incandescent whole—tempting the reader to start over as soon as the book is finished.”
—Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Forbes
"Doerr's prose casts a spell; his world-building is both defiant and tender, a virtuosic meditation on the alchemy of books. Come for the magician's tricks, stay for the exquisite storytelling."
—Hamilton Cain, Star Tribune
“The greatest joy in [Cloud Cuckoo Land] comes from watching the pieces snap into place. It is an epic of the quietest kind, whispering across 600 years in a voice no louder than a librarian's.”
—Jason Sheehan, NPR.org
“Doerr’s creation lifts off quickly, soars, and then, like the various wildfowl wheeling through the story, lands with practiced finesse. . . . Fueled by deep imagination and insistent compassion, Doerr weaves together his storylines with brisk pacing that never feels rushed.”
—Erin Douglass, Christian Science Monitor
“There is a kind of book a seasoned writer produces after a big success: large-hearted, wide in scope and joyous. Following his Pulitzer winner All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land is a deep lungful of fresh air–and a gift of a novel.”
—Elizabeth Knox, The Guardian
“In a big fiction year . . . Cloud Cuckoo Land stands out. . . . Doerr’s characters are astoundingly resilient, suggesting that we may yet save ourselves, with literature an essential tool.”
—Hamilton Cain, Boston Globe
Scribner, 9781982168438, 640pp.
Publication Date: September 28, 2021
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Consider Sybil, the omnipresent, teacherly AI system aboard the Argos, to whom we are introduced in the prologue. Sybil’s core objective is to keep the crew safe. As the novel progresses, Sybil’s objective remains the same, but her role in Konstance’s story grows more and more complicated. How does your opinion of Sybil change as the novel progresses? In your opinion, is she a sinister character, a benevolent one, or neither?
2. Early on in the novel, Anna is enchanted by an ancient fresco in an archer’s turret; each time she looks at it, “something stirs inside her, some inarticulable sense of the pull of distant places, of the immensity of the world and her own smallness inside it” (page 36). How does Anna’s response to the image of Cloud Cuckoo Land compare to Aethon’s when he envisions a city in the clouds in Folio D? What does Cloud Cuckoo Land represent for each of them?
3. Libraries play a central role throughout the novel, both as sanctuaries for children and as stewards of knowledge. Compare the library in Lakeport and the one aboard the Argos. How does the virtual library of Konstance’s time differ from the library in modern-day Idaho? In what ways are they similar? Imagine a library in the year 2200 AD. What does your futuristic library look like?
4. In the immediate lead-up to the siege of Constantinople, Anna and Omeir suffer personal tragedies on opposite sides of the city walls. How does the loss of Maria, Moonlight, and Tree affect these characters? What do you think would have happened to them had they not encountered one another in the forest outside Constantinople?
5. After the death of Trustyfriend, Seymour falls into deeper and deeper mourning for his beloved forests and their inhabitants. As a teenager, he becomes enraptured with a militant environmental justice group, lead by a mysterious figurehead known only as “Bishop.” In what ways does Seymour’s ideology initially match that of Bishop’s group? How does Seymour’s ideology in his adolescence compare to his thinking later in life? In your opinion, what accounts for the change?
6. Throughout the novel, Konstance wonders what drove her father to join the crew of the Argos. Name a few plausible motivations. If you were in his position, would you be willing to accept a spot on the Argos and leave the Earth forever? Why, or why not? Topics & Questions for Discussion n Simon & Schuster
7. Consider Zeno’s epiphany—that “Diogenes, whoever he was, was primarily trying to make a machine that captured attention, something to slip the trap” (page 490). Why is this realization so important to Zeno? What is an example of a story that was meaningful to you during your childhood, and what impact has it had on your life?
8. To gain entry to Cloud Cuckoo Land, Aethon must correctly answer a riddle. “He that knows all that Learning ever writ, knows only this.” The correct answer is “nothing.” Recall that this section of the original Greek manuscript was too eroded to read. Why do you think Zeno chose to complete the riddle in this way?
9. On page 534, Omeir thinks to himself, “All my life…my best companions cannot speak the same language as me.” What does he mean? What role does Omeir’s empathy for all creatures, regardless of their ability to communicate verbally, play in the story?
10. Ilium employs Seymour to help overwrite “potentially undesirable items inside the raw image sets” (page 562). Over the years, Seymour begins to rebel, hiding bits of code in Ilium’s system that, if touched, reveal the gritty reality beneath the corporation’s glossy alterations. Why does Seymour decide to stop cooperating with Ilium? Do you agree with Seymour, that it is important to remember the past in its entirety, sadness, ugliness, and all? Why or why not?
11. Consider the two possible endings to Aethon’s story. Based on Zeno’s translation up to Folio X, which path do you think Antonius Diogenes intended Aethon to take? Why do the children at the Lakeport library prefer the version in which Aethon returns home, and how would your perception of Diogenes’s tale be different if Aethon had remained in Cloud Cuckoo Land? How would it have changed your perception of Doerr’s novel as a whole?
12. Consider the many examples of nostos, or “homecoming,” in the novel: Konstance breaks free from the Argos and embarks on a life on Earth; Zeno returns home after the war to his quiet life in Lakeport; Omeir, too, returns home from war, to his beloved village in the Bulgarian hills; Seymour finds himself drawn to the virtual version of the hometown he left behind; Anna, always so restless, finds a peaceful life of love and intellectual freedom with Omeir. Which story did you connect with the most, and why? In your opinion, what does the novel have to say about the value of “home”?
13. Konstance’s narrative bookends the novel. Why do you think the author chose to start and finish Cloud Cuckoo Land with her story?