A young novelist observes the Eternal City with a fresh eye.
Doerr (About Grace, 2004, etc.) left Boise, Idaho, in November 2004, with his wife and six-month-old twin sons, to become a fellow at the American Academy. He is given a stipend, an apartment and a studio, where he can pursue whatever writing project he chooses. His just-begun novel remains untouched, however, as he finds himself coping with a strange new world. Doerr learns that only when one leaves home “can routine experience—buying bread, eating vegetables, even saying hello—become new all over again.” He struggles valiantly with daily life in an apartment with no oven and confusing plumbing, streets with alarming traffic and neighborhood stores where he doesn’t know the words for what he wants to buy—tomato sauce comes out as grapefruit sauce. His twins require enormous amounts of time and energy from both parents, and sleep constantly eludes him. He somehow maneuvers a twin stroller on and off buses and through the streets of Rome, exploring plazas, churches, even St. Peter’s Square. The reader shares his panic when his wife falls ill and is hospitalized, and his wonder and joy as the twins begin to walk and talk. Through all the trials of domestic life in a foreign land, Doerr finds time to read Pliny and to record in beautifully crafted prose his impressions of the Pantheon, Pope John Paul’s funeral, panhandlers, paintings, pollution, graffiti, piazzas, fountains, pine trees and starlings. Rome is, he writes, “a puzzle of astonishing complexity. It is an iceberg floating beneath our terrace, all its ballast hidden beneath the surface.” At times, a babysitter frees the Doerrs to explore Rome (and later Umbria) on their own, and Doerr finds himself once again writing fiction. To call this a travel book is to sell it short; it is delightful, funny and full of memorable scenes.
Don’t leave for Rome without it.