Cleveland native author Anthony Doerr to attend virtual event
Anthony Doerr, author of “All the Light We Can’t See,” 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner, has turned to ancient Greece, Constantinople, the far future and Intermediate Times for his new novel.
“Cloud Cuckoo Land,” due out September 28, mixes character stories from five different time periods spanning centuries. The characters are united by an ancient Greek text which in different ways has an impact on their entire life.
Today, Doerr, who was born and raised in Cleveland, lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife and twin sons. He will be 48 in October.
On October 12, Doerr will appear in a virtual conversation with author Jess Walter at an event presented by Gramercy Books in Bexley with bookstores in Raleigh, NC, and Evanston, Illinois. He recently spoke on the phone with The Dispatch.
Q: What was the spark for “Cloud Cuckoo Land?”
Doerr: “All the Light We Cannot See” takes place in this small town in Brittany, which was part of Hitler’s massive attempt to build the Atlantic Wall…. (While researching this book), whenever I read about the history of defensive walls, the text mentioned the walls of Constantinople, about which I knew nothing … It was these huge walls that surrounded the city and stood for 1 000 years … As the manuscripts decayed all over the world, they were preserved in the Byzantine Empire, especially in Constantinople, because no one could pass through these walls.
When you are a child you think books are like fruit on trees, always there to be taken, but librarians (including those who have preserved Byzantine manuscripts) are the keepers of human memory and culture and that’s why I dedicated the book to them.
Q: What is your relationship with Greek literature?
Doerr: I think I read “The Odyssey” in high school. I have probably read “Oedipus Rex” and a bit of Sophocles but I had a lot of work to do…. I had never read Aristophanes and I had never heard the expression “land of the cuckoo in the clouds”. Then I found Aristophanes – which is funny even though we don’t have a lot of his jokes inside, … you can still find comedy. So I found a lost author, Diogenes – who is real – and I invented a new text.
Q: The phrase “cloudy cuckoo country” is defined as an absurdly overly optimistic state of fantasy or an unrealistic state where everything is perfect. Why use it for your novel?
Doerr: I wanted to play with the whole range of meanings. The British and Irish are much more familiar with the term, almost like a derogatory term,… “oh, she thinks the virus is going to go away tomorrow, she lives in the land of the cuckoo clouds”…. I like this idea but also the idea of dreaming. Utopian stories are not seen enough. What’s the harm in dreaming of a better place and imagining going there?
Q: Was it difficult to put together five different storylines in this book?
Doerr: It was intimidating and scary. I have rotated so many plates. The organizational structural task of the novel was (difficult). But there is also something very satisfying in these ensemble novels…. there is always something that you can learn, seek and that is really joyful for me.
Q: How long has this book been in preparation?
Doerr: Seven years. I started in May 2014, but there were times when “All the Light” got a little bigger than my previous books and I couldn’t work because I was traveling a lot.
Q: You used to write science books for the Boston Globe and now you write fiction. Can you talk about your relationship with these two genres?
Doerr: My mother was a science teacher for 40 years. Science was just part of our education. It wasn’t like the science building was at one end of the campus and the English building was at the other and you had to choose between them. Learning science and (reading) stories has always been a part of life. I never really saw the dichotomy between art and science. These are two ways of trying to figure out why we are here and how we got here. … I am also very grateful to be a poet and to play with words.
Q: Why is “the story” so important?
Doerr: Even though I loved Ohio and grew up there, I used books to get away – to leave the confines of the place, of myself, and even to time travel. You can go to multiple places and live multiple lives throughout history. … You dissolve your ego when you read. I think I’m trying to do that in “Cloud Cuckoo Land”, finding out how we’re all connected to people we haven’t met and who even belong to a completely different era.
Q: You dedicate the novel to librarians, “then, now and in the years to come”. Are librarians heroes of our world?
Doerr: Absoutely. Each of the characters has a very significant relationship with a librarian. I think what we need most now in our world are stewards, and librarians are some of the best stewards there is.
Q: Do you ever come back to Cleveland?
Doerr: My parents are still there and one of my brothers is still there. We’re taking all the kids to a Browns game in October.
Q: A final word on how you would like readers to think of “Cloud Cuckoo Land?” “
Doerr: There are five very different stories going on and maybe once you get to page 130, it feels like all five planes are finally in the air. I hope I can earn their trust and that they will give it a chance.
Athony Doerr visit a peek
Anthony Doerr will appear in a virtual chat with novelist Jess Walter at 7 p.m. on October 12. A ticket to the online event costs $ 33 and includes a copy of Doerr’s new book, “Cloud Cuckoo Land”. For information and tickets, visit www.gramercybooksbexley.com.