Both Allison and my mother sent this book to me and the timing was exquisite. Nothing like Covid quarantine (after leaving the isolation unit) and a National Lockdown to make you appreciate a 600 plus page fiction novel that takes place in the three different periods of time: the past, present and future. There are characters in 15th century Constantinople fighting in battles and thieving ancient manuscripts from abandoned castles. There’s a Korean war veteran who lives in, of all places, present day Idaho and is fascinated with one of the aforementioned manuscripts. Finally, in the future there is a young girl who lives on a spaceship controlled by a supercomputer babysitter.
I was impressed with how Doerr put together a book like this. He weaves what is three stories together in an intricate pattern that is at times beautiful yet others, all over the place. You have to be aware of what each character, at each point in time, is going through as the story wildly jumps from one point to another. Sometimes for multiple characters within the same scene or across different spans of time.
He has a deep appreciation for all the literature that ever was yet no longer exists. It’s a beautiful concept to ponder and clearly something he holds close to his heart. “Day after day, year after year, time wipes the old books from the world.” The story pays homage to a mythical tale so old it was inscribed on cypress wood tablets – which were disorganized and incomplete, adding to the challenge of telling it. This story is interlaced throughout the book and comes up in all of the characters lives. The Korean vet spends time translating ancient Greek texts that were, in my opinion, not only full of early Stoic wisdom but riveting stories. His thought on the task is gorgeous “But in the attempt, in trying to drag something across the river from the murk of history into our time, into our language: that was the best kind of fool’s errand.” A nice final touch is how the book utilizes three different fonts, ranging from old to new, very charming.