by Anthony Doerr. New York: Scribners, 2021. 626pp,
A Review by D. Margaret Hoffman
So. I got busy. Life intervened and I left off reading for over a month. I thought sure this book was done-for. I didn’t think that I’d be able to remember nearly enough to pick up where I left off.
Did I have all the specifics at my fingertips? No. But while some of the fine points faded, the overall scheme of it, so beautifully crafted, invited me back in despite my lapse. I accepted willingly.
And now that I’ve finished the book, I wonder if I wouldn’t like to reread the stories independently of one another. Zero, Seymour and the population of Lakeport, Idaho, in the 20th and 21st centuries. Anna, Omeir, their families and the armies of the siege of Constantinople in the 15th century. Konstance on board the Argo somewhere 2100-ish. And Aethon in ancient Greece. Stunningly drawn, all of them. Troubled. Alone. Searching. And, like a mother with too many children, I struggled first time around to muster enough energy to know them all. I’d love to give them all another go. But I doubt I will. There are too many other characters out there fighting over my attention and, to be fair, I need to consider them, too.
That said, I’m still thinking about how the individual stories play out and how they join together to develop Doerr’s theme of how stories define us—how they connect us through time and reflect our sameness.
I don’t think that this is all that Doerr has in mind. But it’s all I’ve got and it’s enough for me. His characters are alive and their stories bring me to places I couldn’t go to otherwise. He is the prince of description—lovely, pertinent details that create lives and worlds. His prose is a joy to read for its own sake. And while I am off looking for themes, I must admit that, sometimes, the story is the thing.
As I said before, Cloud Cuckoo Land is a commitment—not for everyone, but one I’m glad I made. Whether or not I work out the finer points of theme (if they even exist) is irrelevant. The thrill of the journey was, for me, worth the effort.