Cloud Cuckoo Land Review
Using elements from Roman author Lucius Apulius’ The Golden Ass and Greek playwright Aristophanes’ plays as his thread, Anthonny Doerr stitches the past, present and future together to create Cloud Cuckoo Land, a fable he attributes to Antonius Diogenes, an ancient Greek (circa 2nd century AD).
His main characters face life and death decisions. In the past, Anna in Constantinople waits for the Ottoman Turks to smash the 1000 year old walls while the Omeir waits in the Ottoman camp for the walls to fall; in the present time, Zeno survives a Korean War POW camp but faces death from a troubled small town guy turned activist; in the future, Konstance must face a plague (Covid??) and indefinite solitary quarantine aboard the spaceship Argos.
Throughout the book, the story of the shepherd Aethon who is turned into a donkey, a fish, and finally a bird, carries them through their crises. At times it is difficult to decide who has it worse, Doerr’s characters or Apulius’!
This is a dense book and there are a few tangents, but they are neatly tied up and the book is very enjoyable to read. Readers will recognize bits of McCall and relate to Idaho life. Since knowing a bit of history makes this book more interesting, I have included a short reference list to save readers the trouble of having to look up details.
Argos-Jason’s ship in which he led his Argonauts to Colchis to retrieve the golden fleece; it means “speed” in ancient Greek.
Sybil-a prophet, female, found in Cumae and Delphi, among other sites. A common Greek myth has her living in a glass jar because she is cursed to live as many years as a handful of grains of sand.
Aethon-means “blazing” in ancient Greek; also one of the Greek god Ares’ fire-breathing horses as well as an alternative name for one of the four immortal horses of the sun god Helios.
Fall of Constantinople-on May 29, 1453, the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II besieged the city for 55 days, finally conquering it using cannons of immense size to batter down the walls. The city was renamed Istanbul.
Second Sophistic-a literary-historical term which refers to the Greek writers who flourished from the reign of the Roman emperor Nero (54-60 AD) until about 230 AD.
Ilium-another name for ancient Troy
Omicron-a variant of Covid, just kidding! A Greek letter, the short o.
Perseus-the Greek hero who killed the Gorgon Medusa
Katholikon-the major church building of a monastery
Scheria-In Homer’s Odyssey, the island home of the Phaeacians, the last of Odysseus’ destinations before he returned to Ithaca
Aorist-one on the seven tenses of ancient Greek verbs, a past tense
Acheron-one of the five rivers of the Underworld (Hades)