Anthony Doerr, 2022 American Literature Grand Prize

Posted Nov 8, 2022 10:40 AMUpdated Nov. 8, 2022, 11:03 a.m.

Meeting on the evening of November 8, at Joe Allen’s in Paris, the jury of the Grand Prix for American Literature

distinguished Anthony Doerr’s monster novel, “The City of Clouds and Birds”, released in mid-September by Albin Michel. The work was crowned in the second ballot by seven votes against three in the New York chronicle of Coco Mellors “Cleopatra and Frankenstein” (Editions Anne Carrière). Two other novels were in the running for the first round: “The Sweetness of Water” by Nathan Harris (Philippe Rey) and “Striking the Night” by Leila Mottley (Albin Michel). Author of three novels and several collections of short stories, Anthony Doerr, 49, received the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for “All the Light We Cannot See”. The “San Francisco Chronicle” sums up the mad enterprise of the American writer well: “The City of Clouds and Birds is unlike any book you have read. »

The American writer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 with “All the light we cannot see”, mixes up ancient Greek myths and the anger of the present time, makes us zigzag in space and time, to exalt the saving power of Literature. Both erudite and entertaining, his novel-river with multiple tributaries never leaves the reader stranded.

For some 700 pages, it takes us on a journey from antiquity to the year 2146, in the footsteps of a mysterious manuscript, a utopian tale signed by the Greek writer Antoine Diogenes, of which only fragments have been preserved. The story mixes burlesque, marvelous and philosophical moral adventures: a young shepherd Atheon, tired of guarding his flock, decides to leave for the celestial city he has seen represented in a play. During his journey, he will be transformed into a donkey, then into a fish, before being transformed into a bird and finally reaching his goal. But when he has experienced the sweetness of the suspended city, then leafed through the book of all knowledge, he will have only one desire: to rediscover the earth, its joys and its torments…

magic of words

The manuscript has come a long way. In Constantinople in the 15th century, it passed from the hands of the young Christian Anna to the brave Muslim peasant Omeir, to end up in the library of Urbino in Italy. After its rediscovery in the Vatican archives at the end of the 20th century, it fascinated a Korean War veteran from Idaho, Zeno, who set about translating it before making a play for children. Finally, it will lull the dreams of Konstance, a teenage captive of a spaceship supposed to reach a habitable planet after the self-destruction of the Earth in the 22nd century.

Anthony Doerr skilfully ties together all of his captivating stories. Each is an odyssey. Combined, they form a stunning fictional cosmos. All the characters, in their own way, are saved by fiction, by the magic of words that open the doors to dreams and hope. Even Seymour, the young American in love with nature who became a terrorist out of hatred for predatory men, will find his redemption in the reading of the famous manuscript.

Doerr, the marvelous writer, draws a line in gold ink between the poetry of Aristophanes, the historical novel, apocalyptic literature and science fiction. A book of all books, his “City of Clouds and Birds” is for lovers of great romantic gestures a gift from heaven and an accomplishment.

The jury is made up of ten members, booksellers, literary critics and publishers. Les Echos have been represented there since its creation in 2015.

The City of Clouds and Birds

American novel

by Anthony Doerr

Translated by Marina Doraso.Albin Michel, 694 pages, 24.90 euros.

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Anthony Doerr, 2022 American Literature Grand Prize