Even as a child scribbling imagined stories in blank books, Anthony Doerr told PW fiction reviews editor David Varno in an interview at the U.S. Book Show on Wednesday, he knew books were precious—and that one day he would write one. So he did, and not just one: Doerr's new novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land (Scribner, Sept.), follows his 2014 Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See, and numerous short stories that have garnered literary awards by the dozens.
All Doerr's works are driven by the same desire “to be transported out of my boring Caucasian body and into other lives and other minds and other eras,” he said. “What I fell in love with originally as a child is what I still love to do most. It’s world-building, sentence by sentence, using these really inexpensive materials, these little black marks on a white page, to try to transport and immerse a reader, and myself, into another place. It is still just total magic to me.”
But his process as a writer is not a matter of magic. Speaking from his home in Boise, Idaho, Doerr gleefully describes his delight diving for years into libraries and internet archives for telling details, citing as an example the color of the sky over Constantinople during the Ottoman invasion in 1453. During the conversation, Doerr held up a codex—a book of ancient manuscripts—and a book of translated fragments of ancient Greek novels he keeps on hand for information, inspiration, and proof. “Books,” he said, “outlive death.”
“I’ve wanted all my career to try to write a book with a book inside of a book that is somehow a tribute to books,” Doerr told Varno—and Cloud Cuckoo Land is that tribute. Described by Varno as a “deeply affecting epic of a long lost book from ancient Greece,” the novel weaves together past and future, with characters ranging from two children in 15th-century Constantinople to a teenage eco-terrorist in contemporary Idaho to an 22nd-century astronaut hurtling through space toward a new homeland for humanity.
Throughout the book, Doerr interspersed 24 one-page fragments of a novel-within-a-novel, Antonius Diogenes's Cloud Cuckoo Land. Each generation encounters and protects the book, Doerr explained, “so that the next generation might also get to experience that same magic.”