I quite enjoyed this book and its numerous interconnecting plot lines. It was erudite, heavily library-themed, and a touch funny in the bargain. It was a challenge to read as well, in a good way - from the outset I was curious how these various plot lines would eventually intersect, and as they did I found it mostly satisfying rather than cumbersome. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d hazard that the Constantinople story line is perhaps the most fascinating, I think because it has the most color and its most evidently obvious how it connects to another story line (that of the oxen) early on. I don’t know that I’d ever heard the city referred to as “the Queen of Cities” but it makes a certain sense. I’m also not sure how historically accurate this particular siege is, but I don’t suppose that matters very much.

The library theme is especially strong, and I enjoyed it a good deal. It’s somewhat self-referential (after all, it’s a book about books) and a little bit over the top, but I guess I didn’t mind all that much because… well, who doesn’t like a library. It captured well some of the feelings which libraries evoke: hushed contemplation, mystery, otherworldly wonder. Does it make a lot of sense with reference to the other big theme of this book, that of transformation? I’m not so sure. One could make a case that the two are indeed thematically linked, but on the whole it feels a little haphazard and forced.

As compared to Doerr’s other work, “All the light we cannot see,” I think this one is a little more overwrought and that it’s just trying too hard. There is some kind of clever structural scheme having to do with the chapters of the Greek donkey story which I simply didn’t care to discover. On the other hand the concept and structure of triangulation in “All the light we cannot see” was really a marvel. That was quite an excellent work, so in a sense I’m perhaps being a bit unfair.

I would in any case recommend this book, it is quite thought-provoking and entertaining.