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Book Review: “Cloud Cuckoo Land” flies to unimaginable heights

In Anthony Doer’s newest release, “Cloud Cuckoo Land,” the novel, spanning across a thousand years, unfolds with five storylines across the world and space:

In 15th century Constantinople, a young seamstress collects lost texts in an abandoned monastery for Italian scholars. Across the continent, a young boy with a cleft palate and a soft spot for his oxen is enlisted into the army–one marching to sack Constantinople.

A Greek boy in the 1940s follows his father to Lakeport, Idaho, and later enlists for the Vietnam War.

In 2020 Lakeport, a troubled teenager places a bomb in the linguistics section of the public library.

Across the galaxy in 2146, the Argos sails to its new home on planet Beta Oph2. A girl trapped inside a sealed vault arranges paper scraps and navigates what used to be Earth through virtual reality.

An ancient manuscript by Greek writer Antonius Diogenes connects each of these characters for a larger-than-life story. On the surface, “Cloud Cuckoo Land” is a story about a story: Aethon’s journey to find the book’s namesake, Cloud Cuckoo Land. At its heart, Doer’s novel observes the butterfly effect and the resounding influence stories have on humankind.

This novel is nowhere near “All the Light We Cannot See”–much to my delight. Both have multiple narrators with their lives fitting together like puzzle pieces–but “Cloud Cuckoo Land” is a thousand-piece puzzle with no reference photo. Don’t get me wrong, Doer’s award-winning best-seller is a tour-de-force worthy of its praise, but “Cloud Cuckoo Land” is in a different ballpark I can’t even imagine trying to compare. There’s no use comparing anyways–the two novels are so vastly different it would be futile.

Doer’s eccentric cast of characters overflows with nuance and complexity rarely seen in expansive works such as this book. This isn’t a novel driven by its plot–the characters and their actions surrounding Aethon’s story drive “Cloud Cuckoo Land” to staggering heights without losing the tension Doer is so well-known for. You’ll surely relate to each character–despite their misguided choices throughout the book.

From the stranded teenager Konstance, lonely veteran, and translator Zeno to misled environmentalist Seymour, there’s no shortage of relatable and utterly human characters to learn from in “Cloud Cuckoo Land.”

The multigenerational timelines across a thousand years were confusing from the get-go. Yet, slowly but surely, the connections between each character became more and more apparent as the story progressed. Given the complexity of each character and their relation to Aethon’s story, the first half of “Cloud Cuckoo Land” drudged along until the halfway mark– then, it became harder and harder to put it down.

Doer’s stunning writing style is at its best in “Cloud Cuckoo Land”–nevertheless, “All the Light We Cannot See” still takes the cake for top-tier storytelling. Doer’s mastery of writing the most uncomplicated but most heart-wrenching sentences is on magnificent display here.

It’s hard to compare “Cloud Cuckoo Land” to Doer’s “All the Light We Cannot See.” Both are beautifully written and illuminate humankind's complexities–and horrors–in startling clarity, but the comparison shouldn’t go any further. Doer’s two novels aren’t even in the same category of fiction to be compared, so leave your preconceptions of “Cloud Cuckoo Land” at the door.

An imaginative, poignant chronicle of the impact stories have on humans and society at large, “Cloud Cuckoo Land” is an unexpected change for Doer. For fans of Doer, this new release might not be their cup of tea and hard to dive into, but “Cloud Cuckoo Land” is worth the leap of faith by the end.

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