From the book: “Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr


Anthony Doerr, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller “All the light we can’t see,” returns with a new historical novel that spans over 700 years.

The long history of “Cloudy Cuckoo Land” (Simon & Schuster, a division of ViacomCBS) spans from the 15th century to Constantinople, present-day Idaho, and into the 22nd century.

Read an excerpt below and don’t miss Lee Cowan’s interview with Anthony Doerr on “CBS Sunday morning” October 3!

Simon & Schuster


On the fourth hill of the city that we call Constantinople, but that the inhabitants of the time simply called the city, in front of the convent of Saint Theophano the Empress, in the former great embroidery house of Nicolas Kalaphates, lives a orphan named Anne. She doesn’t speak until she is three years old. Then these are all questions all the time.

“Why are we breathing, Maria?

“Why don’t horses have fingers? “

“If I eat a crow’s egg, will my hair turn black?” “

“Does the moon fit into the sun, Maria, or is it the other way around?” “

The nuns of Saint Theophano call her Monkey because she always climbs their fruit trees, and the boys of Fourth Hill call her Mosquito because she won’t leave them alone, and the Head Embroiderer, Widow Theodora, says that she should be called Hopeless because she’s the only child she’s ever known who can learn a stitch one hour and forget it completely the next.

Anna and her older sister, Maria, sleep in a cell with a window barely big enough for a palette of horsehair. Between them, they have four pieces of copper, three ivory buttons, a patched woolen blanket and an icon of Saint Koralia which may or may not have belonged to their mother. Anna has never tasted sweet cream, never ate oranges, and never set foot outside the city walls. Before she turns fourteen, everyone she knows will either be enslaved or dead.


Dawn. The rain is falling on the city. Twenty embroiderers go up the stairs to the workshop and find their benches and the widow Theodora goes from window to window opening the shutters. She said, “Blessed, protect us from idleness,” and the workers say, “For we have committed sins without number,” and the widow Theodora opens the cabinet with thread and weighs the thread of gold and ‘silver and small boxes of seed beads and record the weights on a wax tablet and as soon as the room is bright enough to distinguish a black thread from a white thread, they begin.

The oldest, at seventy, is Thekla. The youngest, at seven, is Anna. She perches next to her sister and watches Maria unroll a half-finished priest’s stole on the table. Along the borders, in neat rings, the vines wrap around larks, peacocks and doves. “Now that we have described John the Baptist,” said Maria, “we are going to add his characteristics.” She threads a needle with matching dyed cotton strands, attaches an embroidery frame to the center of the stole and makes a shower of stitches. “We turn the needle and bring the point to the center of the last stitch, dividing the fibers like that, you see?” ”

Anna doesn’t see. Who wants a life like this, hunched over needle and thread all day, sewing saints and stars and griffins and vines into the clothes of hierarchs? Eudokia sings a hymn about the three sacred children and Agata sings one about Job’s trials, and the widow Schuyler walks through the labor room like a heron stalking minnows. Anna tries to follow Maria’s needle – backstitch, chain stitch – but directly in front of their table a little brown stone cat lands on the ledge, shakes the water off her back, sings wheet-chak-chak-chak, and in the blink of an eye Anna dreamed of herself in the bird. She flies off the ledge, dodges the raindrops and rises south over the neighborhood, over the ruins of the Basilica of Saint-Polyeucte. Seagulls circle around the dome of Hagia Sophia like prayers circling around the head of God, and the wind rakes the broad strait of the Bosphorus in white hats, and a merchant’s galley circles the promontory, its sails full of wind , but Anna flies even higher, until the city is a fretwork of rooftops and gardens far below, until she is in the clouds, until—

“Anna,” Maria hisses. “What dental floss here? ”

Across the labor room, Widow Schuyler’s attention is drawn to them.

“Crimson? Wrapped around a wire? “

“No.” Maria sighs. “Not crimson. And no thread.”

From Anthony Doerr’s “Cloud Cuckoo Land”. Copyright © 2021 by Anthony Doerr. Reprinted with permission from Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

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