Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

In Cloud Cuckoo Land, we follow five young teenagers who are all outcasts to society. In the 15th century, Anna and Omeir are each on opposite sides at the siege of Constantinople. Zeno and Seymour meet during an attack on an American library in our time. And Constance is alone in a spaceship in the not so distant future. They all seek solace in the book ‘Cloud cuckoo land’ that tells the story of Aethon who is on a magical journey to a city in the clouds.

Doerr is a great writer. ‘All the light we cannot’ see proved this and Cloud cuckoo land doesn’t disappoint in that regard. This book is divided according to the chapters of the fictional story ‘Cloud cuckoo land’ that dates from the 1st century and in between we follow five youngsters in three different ‘timelines’. It’s an ambitious book in which you have to get used to each perspective and the story unfolds very slowly. Doerr devotes pages and pages to beautiful descriptions. This takes the pace out of some of chapters, but I didn’t mind. I loved the character development and the detail of some of the protagonists backstory’s.

I only had some trouble with the perspectives of both Seymour and Omeir. I just couldn’t get the hang of it. Nor with Zeno at first, but as I got to know him, my sympathy grew. Constance’s futuristic perspective turned out to be my favourite, against my expectations.

There are many themes in the book. Loneliness, autism, homosexuality, climate change…. But the biggest story is the one about the power of books and stories. How we can find solace in them in times of peril.

I had hoped that things would fall into place even more at the end. But actually, this was a really clever piece of storytelling, which asks some effort from the reader to understand it all. But the reward is a story full of hope and love for books.

This is book 4/20 for 20 books of summer.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read anything by Doerr?


Flowers of darkness by Tatiana De Rosnay

Clarissa is a successful author who has just left her second husband and is looking for a place to stay. By accident, she gets selected for a spot in a new apartment complex destined for artists. This apartment is built in the new neighbourhood that has risen from the ashes of a terrorist attack on the Eiffel Tower. After a few weeks, Clarissa notices some strange things in her new home. There are cameras everywhere (except on the toilet), her personalized virtual assistant seems to know her deepest fears and at night her dreams are haunted with a strangely familiar voice. Together with her granddaughter Andy they start an investigation. Are they really being watched? And by who?

Tatiana De Rosnay is my favorite novelist. I always pick up her books, regardless of the topic. The premise of ‘Flowers of darkness‘ didn’t grab my attention at first as artificial intelligence isn’t a topic I’m used to reading about. But once I started, I discovered all the familiar De Rosnay elements are there. A mother recovering from a loss, a small family with their problems and secrets, a bilingual main character who’s also a writer, Paris…

Yes this is a story about the near future where Europe is recovering from a range of awful terrorist attacks, from the Brexit (not so science fiction), from the bee extinction and a sea level rise. It’s an awful future, where people are competing with robots. But not everything is so different in this story. There is love and there is loss. I loved the side characters from her first husband Toby, over her English father to the heartwarming neighbour who befriends Clarissa. And of course, there’s Andy, Clarissa’s angel.

A part of the story is also about Clarissa’s research into the lives of the writers Virginia Woolf and Romain Gary. And the parallels with her own struggles. The mystery element of the apartment is build up but open for interpretation at the end. I had no problem with that. You constantly wonder if Clarissa really sees and hears those things or if it’s just her imagination working.

I finished this book in two sittings. That’s very rare. And it’s just because I enjoy her writing so much. Reading De Rosnay is like wrapping myself in my favourite blanket. This might not be her best, but it still has much to like. I highly recommend to read one of her books.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Who’s your favourite novelist?

How to stop time by Matt Haig

Tom Hazard starts a new career as a history teacher in London. He teaches about Shakespeare as if he has known the man himself. And he did know Shakespeare. Tom was born in the 16th century and suffers from a strange disease that makes him age slowly. One day, he discovers that he isn’t the only one with this condition. Tom becomes part of a secret society where they call themselves Alba’s. The society arranges a new life for you every 8 years and in return you help them find and recruit more Alba’s. To live long may seem a wonderful dream but it can be hurtful too, especially when love is involved.

This was my first book of Matt Haig and I deliberately picked this one as the focus is less on sci-fi and it has some historical elements. The book contains short chapters switching between Tom’s past lives and his current one as a teacher in London. We travel to Elizabethan London, James Cook’s discovery of Australia, New York, Paris… Sometimes it’s a bit confusing in which life we are.

We learn about Tom’s first love Rose and how his disease forced him to part from her. Tom’s undying love (you can take that literally if you want) for Rose is a central topic during the whole story. It becomes an obsession and for me it was a bit too much.

We also get an insight in the secret Alba society. How they found Tom, what the rules are and how they try to hide from the rest of the world. For me, the whole society thing wasn’t the most interesting part of the novel. Tom doesn’t ask questions and just goes along with whatever they tell him. I didn’t find it very convincing.

What I did like were Tom’s ‘accidentally’ encounters with famous figures such as Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald. You’re a history nerd, or not :D. I also liked Haig’s writing style, which becomes very philosophical at times. The concept of ‘time’ is a key element throughout the story.

So yes, I truly understand why people love this book. It’s well-written with some unique storylines, but for me there were too many loose ends to be blown away.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.