Getting lost in Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Cloud Cuckoo Land cover

Getting lost in Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr


I am spending some time catching up on my reading (and reviewing). I think I have chosen the one book that was (to be cliché) manna from heaven. We were fresh home from the hospital and after no reading during my pregnancy, I was so ready to put my feet up and just read.

It’s not often you find a book like Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. It’s a surprising novel, one I thought would be far too complex for me in the throes of having a new baby – I was intimidated to say the least. Interweaving plots and point of views that all thread together, each knotted together with Greek Mythology, as each meet wonderfully and magically at the end of this 600+ page tome. It is a novel you will get lost in, your world blurring slowly at the edges and Doerr’s writing will be the only thing holding your imagination together.


About the Book

Cover of Cloud Cuckoo Land

Thirteen-year-old Anna, an orphan, lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople in a house of women who make their living embroidering the robes of priests. Restless, insatiably curious, Anna learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds a 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. This she reads to her ailing sister as the walls of the only place she has known are bombarded in the great siege of Constantinople. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, miles from home, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the invading army. His path and Anna’s will cross.

Five hundred years later, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses five 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. She has never set foot on our planet.


A book like Cloud Cuckoo Land doesn’t come by very often. It’s a wonderful story of a story. Four stories are told through Aethon’s, an ancient story of a man wishing for more than he is dealt. Anna, Omeir, Zeno and Seymour, all having to overcome their pasts, futures, and all in the hopes for something more just like Aethon.

Doerr drives the story back to the siege of Constantinople as young Anna finds a book – a story that keeps her going as she reads it to her ill sister. While Omeir, a village boy, with a face abnormality has been discarded his entire life – a curse. Anna and Omeir’s paths cross. Anna running from the horrors of her home and Omeir part of the army that takes Anna’s home from her. Their friendship and journey through the rest of their lives are held tightly together by the story of Aethon’s paradise. You feel like you are right there holding Anna’s hand as her feet hit cobbled ancient streets, and you get on board with Omeir and his mangled face as his wagon jolts towards the war torn city.

Weaving through the story of Omeir and Anna is the story of Zeno, an eighty-year-old man who studied Greek as a prisoner of war, and Seymour, who is a troubled teen who is insistent on saving the world. While Zeno rehearses the story of Aethon (in the form of a play) with a group of children, Seymour plants a bomb in the shelves of the library Zeno and the kids are in. It’s their stories of hurt, heartbreak, life and love that lures the reader into this seemingly complex story. The story moves slowly forward taking you back to Zeno’s father, the wars that Zeno lives through, the pressure to be a hero but also to find love in the most unexpected place (and I don’t mean this to sound cliché, but it is literally the most unexpected place). Seymour’s childhood is sad and Doerr gives him a humanity that you understand why he is doing what he is doing and while you disagree you somehow feel the justification of it all – he gives Seymour humanity – even if it is misguided.

This story moves quickly and slowly through years of life, love and loss. The story of Aethon holding each of these characters together and guiding them slowly through their lives, as each character takes something away from it. There are parts that will sweep you away from your chosen reading place and have you creeping slowly back to the book for more.  Each character is so beautifully told as Doerr carefully constructs each line, dialogue and plot twist – I found that I got more than enough, that no one character got lost for me in this very expansive story. Cloud Cuckoo Land got me out of my very deep reading rut. The book is lovely. Absolutely, delightfully lovely.


This book is everything and you HAVE to read it.


5 out of 5 stars


Thank you to Jonathan Ball Publishers for the copy of this book.