Anthony Doerr won a Pulitzer Prize and the hearts of many devoted readers with his World War II novel All the Light We Cannot See. Seven years later, Doerr surpassed the high bar he set for himself with his new book. Cloud Cuckoo Land is about the power of stories to transport us beyond place and time, and to connect us with one another.
The book follows five characters in three different timelines. It sounds complicated, but Doerr weaves their stories together seamlessly. In the 15th century, Anna and Omeir are trying to survive the siege and fall of Constantinople on opposite sides of the wall. Zeno and Seymour cross paths in a public library in present-day Idaho. In the future, Konstance is traveling through space on a vessel headed for a new world. In all three timelines, the characters carry forward a story called “Cloud Cuckoo Land.” The folio survives war, weather and time. It helps readers “slip the trap” and hold on to hope in the darkness. Doerr’s novel does the same for us as we escape into its pages.
Cloud Cuckoo Land is dedicated to “the librarians then, now, and in the years to come,” so Doerr had my heart from the very beginning. The story reminds us that for much of human existence, stories and knowledge have been passed by word of mouth or written on fragile materials. Each book that was preserved through the centuries is a sort of miracle. Cloud Cuckoo Land also urges us to think about the way that we live our lives and care for our one, precious planet.
Check out these books on stewardship and the power of books while you’re waiting for your turn to read Cloud Cuckoo Land.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Cloud Cuckoo Land shows us that any book that survives the weather, decay and human destruction of the centuries is a kind of miracle. Every story that lasts can impact many lives. In People of the Book we follow the journey of a rare illuminated manuscript and discover its story of survival. The story begins with a rare book expert tasked with analyzing a famous text, the Sarajevo Haggadah. It is one of the earliest Jewish volumes to ever be illuminated or painted with images. As the expert begins her examination, she finds a number of clues in its binding that lead her into the book’s secrets. You will go on a journey through exile, inquisition and war, rooting all the way for a book that will carry its story forward.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
In Station Eleven, Emily St. John suggests the beauty we share through art and literature elevate our lives beyond simple survival. The story begins with the death of one man, a star actor who suffers a heart attack onstage. An EMT trainee from the audience rushes to his aid and a child actress witnesses the scene. At the same time a deadly flu is spreading, and in a matter of weeks nearly all of the people on earth have died.
Twenty years later, small groups of humans are making new lives without the technology of the past. There is no internet, electricity or automobiles. Kirsten, the former child actress who witnessed Arthur’s death, roams as part of a Traveling Symphony who perform concerts and plays for small audiences. Their motto is a line from Star Trek: Voyager: “Because survival is insufficient.”
Mandel’s novel is about survivors and their efforts to rebuild human society. It’s also about the people who died and the ways their actions and art continue to affect the living. Like Cloud Cuckoo Land, the narrative moves between past and present, from one character’s point of view to another’s. Readers gradually learn about the entangled connections that tie the characters to each other. There is danger and darkness in Mandel’s and Doerr’s visions of the future. However, there is more good than bad. There is more hope than sadness. Always there are people who hold tightly to the most beautiful parts of the human world that’s been lost.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
If you liked the epic span and message of environmental stewardship in Cloud Cuckoo Land, The Overstory might be right up your alley. This Pulitzer Prize–winning novel follows the lives of five trees and nine people across generations. The story shows how deforestation and disregard for the complexity of nature led to the existential crisis we now face. Available instantly as an audiobook on Hoopla.
The End of the Ocean by Maja Lunde
The End of the Ocean is a father-daughter story of survival told in alternating timelines from multiple perspective. Like Cloud Cuckoo Land, it explores themes of nature, stewardship and what it means to be human.
Here’s the publisher’s blurb: “In 2019, 70 year-old Signe sets sail alone on a hazardous voyage across the ocean in a sailboat. On board, a cargo that can change lives. Signe is haunted by memories of the love of her life, whom she’ll meet again soon. In 2041, David and his young daughter, Lou, flee from a drought-stricken Southern Europe that has been ravaged by thirst and war. Separated from the rest of their family and desperate to find them, they discover an ancient sailboat in a dried-out garden, miles away from the nearest shore. Signe’s sailboat. As David and Lou discover Signe’s personal effects, her long ago journey becomes inexorably linked to their own.” Read this one instantly as an ebook or audiobook on Hoopla.
When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning
Stories carry the best of humanity forward, and books can truly save lives. This is the story of the librarians and readers who worked to send free books to American troops during World War II. Their efforts led to the popularity of the paperback and created a lifeline for soldiers who were facing death every day. The soldiers counted books as their most precious possessions and passed them around until they fell to pieces. Many wrote to the authors to tell them that without their stories, the soliders would not have survived. Available instantly as an ebook or audiobook on Hoopla.