The City of Clouds and Birds – Anthony Doerr – book review

Summary : The reader is taken from 15th century Constantinople to a distant future where humanity plays its survival aboard a strange spaceship through America from the 1950s to the present day. All characters have had their fates changed by The City of Clouds and Birds, a mysterious text from ancient Greece that spans time, uniting the past, present and future of humanity, and celebrates power of the written and the imaginary.

Critical : Complex work, made up of several layers, The City of Clouds and Birds gravitates around a fictional book (eponymous) that Antoine Diogenes would have written in the 1st century of our era. Snippets of this ancient epic are interspersed between the pages of Anthony Doerr’s novel, punctuating the lives of the five central characters, often echoing them, feathers of this city perched in the sky falling gently into their lives. Zeno is the only one with a clear connection to these lost folios written in ancient Greek. Indeed, he is the translator and has made it his mission to transmit the magic of this text to five children: patiently they prepare a theatrical performance inspired by it. Before becoming a director, Zeno cleared the snow-covered roads for years, forgetting his months of imprisonment in a camp in North Korea in 1950, the fights, the impossible loves, as Anthony Doerr will focus on him. describe little by little, playing with the chronology of existences as much as with the general temporality of this novel. Seymour, an autistic teenager, prowls around the library where Zeno and his team rehearse, his intentions disturbing the reader before the latter gradually understands what stirs the heart of this young man. Konstance, she lives in a space capsule, several decades after these male heroes, locked up against its sandstone, escaping by the spirit thanks to virtual reality and a library seeming to contain as much knowledge as that of Constantinople. Also, Anna is a budding little embroiderer who lives in this beleaguered city, her meager freedom disappearing as the Ottomans cannonade the walls. Among them, Omeir, a herdsman with a cleft lip that everyone fears or despises.

Everyone, like all humans, dreams of a better world – similar in this to Aethon, the hero of Diogenes. In reality, this fictitious character in all respects and his fanciful adventures as born from the spirit of Collodi, were inspired in Anthony Doerr by The Wonders of Beyond Thule, a real manuscript of the Greek author. Despite the mise en abyme, despite the temporal back and forth, the fluidity of this text is undeniable: the reader flies over the ages, travels through time without getting lost, guided by the sure pen of the author, impregnated with the soft dust of History, the magic of myths and the clicks of sci-fi technological tools.

Gradually, links are forged between eras, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize creating a real network that gives life to a book to be read – from its conception to its rebirth, a phoenix battered by the years, bad weather, plagues and wars, but rising from its ashes. Tribute to reading The City of Clouds and Birds is also an ecological plea that warns against what has been watching the Earth, its inhabitants and their writings, for centuries, it seems. However, as in All the light we can’t seehope triumphs, despite the walled cities that fall, despite the children that society rejects and sees as abnormal – or perhaps because of them.

Anthony Doerr – The City of Clouds and Birds

Albin Michael

150.00mm x 220.00mm

704 pages


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The City of Clouds and Birds – Anthony Doerr – book review