Book club questions for Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr takes an in-depth look at this epic and impactful novel. There will be spoilers so for more context about the book, check out my spoiler-free review first.
Wow, what a novel! This is one of those where I really had to step back and consider all the different aspects of it. As I mentioned in my review, it took me a bit to get into it but once I did, I absolutely loved it. Truly a special work of fiction.
While I was engaged with all the storylines, my favorite character was Zeno. His story is sad in many ways but also hopeful and inspiring. I could read an entire book dedicated to Zeno.
I also thought Konstance’s storyline was quite intriguing as well. Let me know which character was your favorite!
Set in Constantinople in the fifteenth century, in a small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship decades from now, Anthony Doerr’s gorgeous third novel is a triumph of imagination and compassion, a soaring story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril, who find resilience, hope—and a book. In Cloud Cuckoo Land, Doerr has created a magnificent tapestry of times and places that reflects our vast interconnectedness—with other species, with each other, with those who lived before us, and with those who will be here after we’re gone.
Thirteen-year-old Anna, an orphan, lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople in a house of women who make their living embroidering the robes of priests. Restless, insatiably curious, Anna learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds a book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. This she reads to her ailing sister as the walls of the only place she has known are bombarded in the great siege of Constantinople. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, miles from home, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the invading army. His path and Anna’s will cross.
Five hundred years later, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon’s story, preserved against all odds through centuries. Tucked among the library shelves is a bomb, planted by a troubled, idealistic teenager, Seymour. This is another siege. And in a not-so-distant future, on the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in a vault, copying on scraps of sacking the story of Aethon, told to her by her father. She has never set foot on our planet.
Book Club Questions for Cloud Cuckoo Land
- What does ‘cloud cuckoo land’ mean for each of the main characters? What does it mean for you?
- Why were these characters all so engaged with the story of Aethon?
- The story takes us from the fifteenth century to the present day—why do you think the author chose those time periods to tell this story?
- How were each of these characters loosely connected? Did you feel this thread of connection paid off in the end?
- Which storyline were you most engaged with? Which one the least?
- The author Anthony Doerr talked about how he wanted to explore the concept of people hoping for a perfect utopia. He wrote, ‘what is it about seemingly every human generation in seemingly every culture that we tell stories about traveling to better, prettier, more equitable places in far-off lands?’ Why do you think that is? Is it human nature to think another land/country/world would be better than our own?
- Let’s examine each character more closely. Zeno is homosexual in a time period where he didn’t feel he could be free. How did his love for Rex impact his life moving forward? How would have things been different if Zeno told Rex how he truly felt? How did all his life experience lead him to saving the children’s lives?
- How did Anna’s quest for curiosity and learning change the course of her life for good? What did you think about the relationship between Anna and Omeir?
- Konstance is led to believe that she’s on a ship far away from the dying Earth. But she’s also curious and eventually learns that the ship never left Earth. What are your thoughts about this reveal?
- Seymour was complicated and appears to have an undiagnosed mental illness. Could things have been different if he had more help and support growing up?
- What are some of the key takeaways of the story for you?
- What are the type of stories that endure throughout generations?
Hope you enjoyed book club questions for Cloud Cuckoo Land! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
If you’re looking for another fantasy type novel, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is a good choice.
France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever―and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Texas, 1921. A time of abundance. The Great War is over, the bounty of the land is plentiful, and America is on the brink of a new and optimistic era. But for Elsa Wolcott, deemed too old to marry in a time when marriage is a woman’s only option, the future seems bleak. Until the night she meets Rafe Martinelli and decides to change the direction of her life. With her reputation in ruin, there is only one respectable choice: marriage to a man she barely knows.
By 1934, the world has changed; millions are out of work and drought has devastated the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as crops fail and water dries up and the earth cracks open. Dust storms roll relentlessly across the plains. Everything on the Martinelli farm is dying, including Elsa’s tenuous marriage; each day is a desperate battle against nature and a fight to keep her children alive.
In this uncertain and perilous time, Elsa—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or leave it behind and go west, to California, in search of a better life for her family.
The Four Winds is a rich, sweeping novel that stunningly brings to life the Great Depression and the people who lived through it—the harsh realities that divided us as a nation and the enduring battle between the haves and the have-nots. A testament to hope, resilience, and the strength of the human spirit to survive adversity, The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.