Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Anthony Doerr - Cloud Cuckoo Land

When everything is lost, it’s our stories that survive.
How do we weather the end of things? Cloud Cuckoo Land brings together an unforgettable cast of dreamers and outsiders from past, present and future to offer a vision of survival against all odds.
Constantinople, 1453:
An orphaned seamstress and a cursed boy with a love for animals risk everything on opposite sides of a city wall to protect the people they love.
Idaho, 2020:
An impoverished, idealistic kid seeks revenge on a world that’s crumbling around him. Can he go through with it when a gentle old man stands between him and his plans?
Unknown, Sometime in the Future:
With her tiny community in peril, Konstance is the last hope for the human race. To find a way forward, she must look to the oldest stories of all for guidance.
Bound together by a single ancient text, these tales interweave to form a tapestry of solace and resilience and a celebration of storytelling itself. Like its predecessor All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr’s new novel is a tale of hope and of profound human connection.

Comment: This was probably one of the books from 2021 people liked the most. At the time, I was able to ignore the hype easily, but I did give in to it when I saw a paperback edition at a store and eventually agreed with a friend for us to buddy read it. With such good ratings in several websites, I confess I expected more greatness...

In this book we follow the lives of several characters, in several moments throughout time, as they go on about their lives and must deal with challenges and obstacles while seeking for something. Somehow, there is a piece of literature that bonds them all, the ancient text an author dedicated to his sister.  How these characters are linked because of the text is what drives the main plot but in each main character there is something to look for and something to be done... but will everyone manage to make the right choices when it comes to their own lives? And how will that affect the lives of the others in their own time?

All the Light We Cannot See put this author on the map and it has certainly raised the expectations on whatever work he might produce because that was a very enjoyable and successful book. I include myself in sharing these accolades for that book. Of course, books are worthy on their own and not because we should simply compare them with one another, but I must say I was hoping for something as emotional and profound as the other book was. I think some parts of this one felt like that but as a whole... not so much.

To start with, I've felt this is a very confusing story line. The reader has to divide focus and attention into several time lines and characters. At the base we have what is said on the blurb: action in the 15th century Constantinople, Idaho 2020 and somewhere in the 2100s in the future. Then, we also have scenes regarding other moments in the life of some of the main characters, not only in these main times. I should add the action goes back and forth from chapter to chapter, making this a rather dizzy experience and, as others have said, making it feel as if we can't truly connect with what is going on.

The main story line is attached to the ancient text characters are studying or working with and which connects their lives throughout time. I think this idea is sometimes lost because we have a lot of detail on every main character and it's not always pertinent to the need to understand this ancient text. As far as an "excuse" or"starting point" goes, I confess I was not sold on the importance or even beauty of the text. Of all the details and descriptions, I must agree with readers who said it takes too long to explain an idea or a setting before it even becomes integral to the story.

I can only imagine the narrative and writing are meant to be appealing and the author wanted to use suggestive prose and create a rich setting, but to me the effect was the opposite, I've felt bored plenty of times until around the 55% mark. Added to the confusing elements, many things are told in such a way we have to assume they are important and at the end, it turns out that some of those many pages could have been summarized without losing impact. I wouldn't say there's more "filler" pages than necessary ones, but a lot of what is shared isn't always that special for the endgame.

The main characters are interesting on their own, I think. I liked reading some of the sections about Zeno, and I liked Konstance as a character. Konstance is a young girl of the future, whose sphere of action happens in a space ship. Zeno is an old man at a library in 2020 but we also have glimpses of his youth as a military man in Korea. What they have in common is actually quite flimsy. to be honest, so the expectation that there's this complex and amazing link between everything in the universe is kind of lost or nonexistent, which ended up being disappointing. The characters in Constantinople only seemed to matter a bit more when the story is reaching the end, so... all that setting up felt wasted.

Zeno has had some intense experiences in life and I would have liked to have more focus on his life instead of just glimpses for the supposed purpose of this novel. Konstance is a fascinating character and probably is on the most challenging setting of them all, and tension is built with each new chapter from her POV, which made me assume something big would happen related to this but when the final page is turned on her POV, despite the surprising situation she is actually in, I must say I thought the author would expand a lot more, we don't have that much information except our personal assumptions.

Basically, there's a lot of ideas, a lot of human behaviors to explore and think of, which is good but then, again, perhaps all those pages were a bit too much. I would have liked the story to have more definition, more specific ideas developed instead of a lot of secondary setting up. The actual plot, underneath all the extras, wasn't too bad, and I was curious to know why those characters were made to look as if they mattered a lot, but the end result wasn't as great to me. I feel as if the individual characters weren't too bad, but as a whole, the novel - attempted to work out in such a long plot - wasn't as successful.
Grade: 6/10

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