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Michelle’s commentary on books, digital publishing and intersections between fiction & reality

Reading “Cloud Cuckoo Land” by the Mediterranean Sea

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November 19, 2021

The Book: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

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An easy 5/5 stars.

*No spoilers, just bits about the plot*

I’m clearly not alone in my adoration of this book. I initially picked up Cloud Cuckoo Land after writing my blog post on which books made the Fiction Longlist for the National Book Award. Doerr’s name caught my eye, having read—and equally adored—All the Light We Cannot See back in 2017.

I read that novel during my first trip to Europe, so it only made sense I read another one of his works when I found myself back here again. And Cloud Cuckoo Land not only made the Longlist, but was announced as a finalist. It fell short to Hell of a Book, the winner who was announced two days ago.

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Doerr has an amazing ability to interweave narratives that seemingly have nothing in common. Though the POVs of Marie-Laure Leblanc and Werner Pfennig from All the Light We Cannot See were easier to connect, it was an entirely different story (at first) for Cloud Cuckoo Land.

We’re first introduced to Zeno in the year 2020, a war-vet who learned how to translate Greek and is currently helping five fifth-graders prepare for a play. Then we meet Seymour, in the same year, same place (Idaho), only a block away. He is planning on planting a bomb in the library.

Before we can get any answers, we’re swept away to Constantinople in the years 1439-1452 where we get to know Anna and her sister Maria and are informed that “Before [Anna] turns fourteen, every person she knows will either be enslaved or dead.”

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Then, in the same period of time, we’re moved to the mountains of Bulgaria and learn of the birth of Omeir, an infant who has a cleft in his upper lip.

Lastly, far in the future, onboard “The Argos” mission years 55-58, there is Konstance who is among a crew drifting in space away from Earth.

These five perspectives span a number of centuries and each contain such an intricate, heart-wrenching story. One thing binds them all together—a book called “Cloud Cuckoo Land” that has survived longer than all of them.

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I haven’t read a novel this moving in awhile. Though it took some time to get invested in the story—only because I had to get used to getting tugged away from certain narratives and catapulted back into others—the payoff was incredible and Doerr’s writing is beautiful as always.

The recurring themes of love and loss, the importance of libraries and written works and an obsession of the past are applicable to each individual even though their lives and the societies they live in are so different.

Favorite Quotes

  • “Repository,” he finally says, “you know this word? A resting place. A text—a book—is a resting place for the  memories of people who have lived before. A way for the memory to stay fixed after the soul has traveled on.”
  • “But books, like people, die. They die in fires or floods or in the mouths of worms or at the whims of tyrants. If  they are not safeguarded, they go out of the world. And when a book goes out of the world, the memory dies a  second death.”
  • Why can’t healing happen as quickly as wounding? You twist an ankle, break a bone—you can be hurt in a  heartbeat. Hour by hour, week by week, year by year, the cells in your body labor to remake themselves the way  they were the instant before your injury. But even then you’re never the same: not quite.
  • Strange how suffering can look beautiful if you get far enough away.
  • The purpose of everything, from pots to people, seems to be to survive as long as possible, and anything that is  not durable is not valued.

The Place: Nice, France in October-November

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I couldn’t have picked a better place to begin my Europe journey! Or a better place to read this beautiful book. I’m staying in the port, so just a block from my apartment there’s just a huge collection of yachts and boats.

When I first arrived in Nice, I was honestly really scared, anxious and wanted to book a flight home. I dropped my stuff off at my place and had to go get litter for my cat, and the walk to the grocery store was jarring. Obviously I knew what I was getting into, but being immersed in a different country that speaks a different language was terrifying at first.

Walking to the store I couldn’t understand anyone passing me on the street, I couldn’t read any of the signs and I kind of made a fool of myself trying to check out and use their cash machine.

But I can luckily say that I love it here (now). I have a coffee shop a couple of blocks away I go to do my work at, a grocery store I have now figured out, I’ve learned how to dry my clothes on a line outside and I’ve met so many amazing people I’ll be sad to leave.

This place has quickly become home, a feeling that was so far-off my first few days here. I will never tire of walking to the lighthouse to watch the sunset, sunbathing (in the middle of November?!) on the coast 10 minutes from my apartment, eating huge pizzas for dinner, walking everywhere, taking the tram to meet my friends in Jean Medecin and just developing a comfy routine in a place that felt so uncomfortable at first.

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My biggest fear was coming out here and being lonely. I don’t mind being alone, but I didn’t think it would be possible to meet as many kind, selfless people I did. I truly feel like I’ve made friends for life and we’ve done plain stupid things like throwing a fake bachelorette party in Monaco so we could get into clubs for free.

I don’t feel like I can adequately put into words what this place means to me, so I’ll just drop in some more pictures.

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