Anthony Doerr’s newest novel is an adventure unparalleled in not only the rest of his work but in today’s canon in general. It is a sprawling, experimental piece that at its very heart is a striking ode to storytelling itself, and the ways in which we write, preserve, transmit, and transmute the stories passed down from generation to generation.
The novel follows five characters through several different time periods from the ancient past to the far future, each juggling, performing, reading, or interacting with Diogenes book “Cloud Cuckoo Land” that serves as the central mast to the journey this book takes us on. Our characters are tasked with pulling the central text through the fog (metaphorically, but sometimes literally) of time and in their various ways engaging with it in aspects of their time that has allowed it to remain with us as part of human expression, from its first written existence to its preservation, translation, performance, and intergalactic rediscovery.
The magic of this novel lies in what Doerr manages to accomplish in such an unflinchingly anti-pedantic manner. Some reviewers online I have seen even suggest they plowed through its 622 pages in one day, and much like Siskel and Ebert’s surprising review of how engaging “My Dinner With Andre” is despite the fact that it is an hour and a half of two guys having an intellectual talk over a dinner, I am not at all surprised. This book has momentum and a strong, unpretentious heart at its core. The piece is approachable despite its complicated structure and nonlinear narrative, similar to David Mitchell or Michael Cunningham’s work but suitable for a much broader, affable appeal. The characters are almost puppets in their own world, carried through the narrative and their experiences tied to this book in a cosmic way to ensure we are left with their story about a story, and boy do we care about how they manage to do it and just as surprised as they are when they end up in some of the resulting situations they find themselves in.
In this manner, the approachability and accessibility in its form directly mirror the thematic and contextual meaning of the novel itself. It is a book about a book that weaves through history and is discovered and rediscovered, and it is itself leaving an incredible contemporary impact being a story that is carrying the very story within itself. Doerr delivers a clever and incredibly well-executed magic trick. The book is an electric feast for bibliophiles everywhere and was an absolute joy to behold. I plan on another read-through very soon.
Cloud Cuckoo Land is out today from Scribner.