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Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World

Review

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World

Anthony Doerr rides his bicycle home from the delivery room
where his wife has just given birth to twin boys. He opens the
mailbox to find a letter from the American Academy of Arts, stating
that he has won the Rome Prize, a coveted honor for which he had
been anonymously nominated four months prior.

Six months later he arrives in Rome with his wife and six-month-old
children, determined to work on his novel about the German
occupation of Normandy in the 1940s. Day after day the pages stare
blankly before him, and instead his interest is captured by his
immediate surroundings, a first-century Roman book titled NATURAL
HISTORY by Pliny the Elder, and the daily wonderment of his twin
boys.

Doerr attempts to grab hold of this foreign language and lifestyle
that is Rome. He approaches Rome with no pretension or flip of the
hand, but instead with a feeling that he is an outsider looking in,
a child struggling to survive in a complex environment. Learning
the correct words to order from the neighborhood grocer gives Doerr
as much satisfaction as seeing his boys take their first step. In
this way man and child together must navigate their way through the
unknown, armed only with blundering curiosity.

Doerr sees not only Rome’s four seasons, but witnesses the
death of one Pope and the election of another. Subsequently, a
once-in-a-lifetime Roman event happens in the small fragment of
time that Doerr graces its soil. He sees the childlikeness of an
entire country as it mourns the death of its father and rejoices in
coming of its new one, while holding his own sons in his
arms.

FOUR SEASONS IN ROME is a love letter to a nation, written by a
true poet of prose. Doerr captures everyday scenes and turns them
into beautiful paintings in the mind’s eye. He is aware not
only of the sky and the architecture, but of things as intangible
as the wind coming over from the east. He describes characters on
the street so vividly that we can believe we’ve met them
ourselves, and he does it all with such humility that it is as if
we were having a conversation with the guy next door.

In fact, Doerr’s “guy next door” quality is
probably a large part of his charm. With an award he has not
strived for and two children who have been bestowed upon him by the
forces of nature, Doerr is merely a thoughtful observer of his own
life, knowing full well that he has little or no control over how
it plays out. His sentence stating “You find your way through
a place by getting lost in it” sums up both his experience in
Rome and that of caring for his children.

It’s this humor-filled and reverent acceptance of his
day-to-day existence that makes him an “everyman,” and
it’s his constant analysis of the wonders of the world that
make him a poet of a higher plane. Doerr brings that plane down to
us, and we are grateful to see the world through his eyes.

Reviewed by Shannon Luders-Manuel (www.shannonluders.com) on January 22, 2011

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World
by Anthony Doerr

  • Publication Date: June 10, 2008
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 141657316X
  • ISBN-13: 9781416573166