Adrienne Martini Reviews Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr (Scribner 978-1-9821-6843-8, $30, 640pp, hc) Sept. 2021

Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land is hard to sum up for all of the best reasons. His voice is clear, strong, and gorgeous. The story tells the truth about books and being a human by looking at both slantwise – and it sticks with you long after you’ve finished it. Yet, despite the author’s Pulitzer-winning pedigree, Cloud Cuckoo Land is not pretentious, nor does Doerr show off his writing ability for its own sake. This is a solid, well-told tale that doesn’t get lost in its own cleverness. It is also very much a genre work in the Vonnegut-ian mode, where the genre’s furniture provides a nice seat from which to look at life on Earth.

The Cloud Cuckoo Land of the title refers to a (very much fictional) lost and rediscovered ancient Greek manuscript about Aethon, a simple shepherd, who is turned into fish. Interwoven into this story’s retelling are an elderly South Dako­tan, a young adult South Dakotan, two children in or near 14th-century Constantinople, and a teenager on a generational space ship heading toward a far-off planet. Their lives intersect, as you think they must, in ways that you don’t see coming and that keep you turning the pages so that you find out the hows and whys. That is what the best fiction does, no matter which shelf you put it on.

The best fiction also reminds you about the importance of stories in general while taking you far away from realities of actual life. As one char­acter explains to another in Cloud Cuckoo Land:

“I know why those librarians read the old stories to you,” Rex says. “Because if it’s told well enough, for as long as the story lasts, you get to slip the trap.”

Doerr’s most recent book lets you slip the trap of life in 2021 (and beyond) by visiting an imagined future and its past – and it sticks with you long after it ends.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

This review and more like it in the February 2022 issue of Locus.

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