Archive for the ‘youth’ Tag

Libraries and Adventures   Leave a comment

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Cloud Cuckoo Land may be the looniest book title I’ve heard of. Nonetheless, it’s Anthony Doerr’s most recent, aptly-named novel. This epic work traverses centuries and locales; it’s about five children, books and the importance of libraries in their lives and throughout time.

Anna is an orphan in Constantinople; Omeir is a village boy in the same era. Zeno and Seymour are from Idaho living in the 2000s; and Konstance lives on an interstellar ship. Some them converge, and they’re not the ones readers might expect.

Libraries could, collectively, be a sixth character. They serve as gathering places for four of the five to learn about their individual worlds. A Greek book ties everything together. It’s the namesake of this narrative and a story within the main story.

Each section expands on the ancient tale of Cloud Cuckoo Land wherein a man is turned into an ass. His efforts to regain his human self result in a far-fetched adventure with a potent moral.

At 600+pages, some might consider this to be a daunting undertaking. Yet, it’s worth reading every word. The characters age and not all for the better; the paths they pursue, often driven by information gleaned from their respective library visits or exposure to the Greek story, are ones easily imaginable despite the different settings.

Doerr has crafted a rich and vivid narrative through empathy, tension and curiosity. It’s a given the different eras and places will make sense. How it occurs is captivating.

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Five Bookmarks

Scribner, 2021

626 pages

Friendship’s Trials and Tribulations   Leave a comment

interstings

Titles, like first lines, can make or break a novel’s appeal. Certainly, if Meg Wolitzer had called her most recent book The Borings, instead of The Interestings, it might not have garnered much attention (which it has). Yet, there’s something pretentious about it, which is just the tone – along with some irony – the author instills in this contemporary epic about friendship, love, human potential and disappointment.

Wolitzer’s account moves back and forth through time, but it all pivots around the beginning which occurs at a camp for the arts in the summer of 1974. “The Interestings” is the name six teenagers give themselves; it’s meant to separate them from everyone else in camp. They’re talented, to varying degrees, mostly privileged and self-absorbed. Even as they move through adulthood, they carry those same qualities. Yes, they mature and Wolitzer is at her best illustrating their personal struggles and triumphs, but they can’t quite shake idea of their old moniker.

The power of friendship, particularly among four of the six, is an underlying theme and it, more than anything else, drives the novel. The characters’ ability to fit in and accept themselves also delivers some impact.

The exhaustive story spans more than five decades in a way that’s reminiscent of Forest Gump. Instead of a sound track to identify the passage of time, Wolitzer relies largely on political events. Although the characters are interesting, it’s not as much as they think – or as much as we want them to be.

The Interestings
Four Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2013
468 pages