Book Review: Four Seasons in Rome


Let me acknowledge one thing about this week’s book: I am shamelessly biased toward liking it. First and foremost, Four Seasons in Rome is written by Anthony Doerr, author of two previously-loved reads this year (All the Light We Cannot See and Memory Wall Stories). This man is a ridiculously talented writer who is the master of description and offers wisdom which stops me in my tracks.

“every timidity eventually turns into regret.”

Even more bias creeps in because the book is about a city I love and visited a few weeks ago; he writes about writing, cultural challenges, parenting, and food. In short, everything I love.

As I mark the pages and write in the margins, I have to manufacture reasons someone wouldn’t like it - - perhaps if you’re distracted by Italian names (Doerr gives street and piazza names as he explains his adventures); maybe memoires aren’t your thing as you prefer more linear storytelling; or you might not be impressed by lyrical writing.

The reasons I create are thin, because though I can imagine people who wouldn’t like this book, I place them in the same category as someone who wouldn’t enjoy Adele’s voice.

Let’s just say we won’t be trading books any time soon.

And so, if you’d like a peek into why I’m gushing, I offer more than a few picks from this perfectly wonderful book. Why don’t we start with some of his thoughts on living abroad?

“You find your way through a place by getting lost in it.”

“As it always is with leaving home, it is the details that displace us. The windows have no screens, Sirens, passing in the street, are a note lower. So is the dial tone on our red plastic telephone. When we pee, our pee lands not in water but on porcelain.”

On living in Rome in particular:

“The gaze widens and drifts; the eye is insatiable. The brain drowns.”

“We race across a street whizzing with buses. We start back up the stairs. We see no fat people.”

“(Rome) is a Metropolitan Museum of Art the size of Manhattan; no roof, no display cases, and half a million combustion engines rumbling in the hallways.”

“...the way time here feels simultaneously immense and tiny.”

“A travel website says that there are 280 fountains in Rome, but it seems as if there are more:...Remove them and there is no present tense, no circulatory system, nor dreams to balance the waking hours. No Rome.”

On food:

“Every time I turn around here, I witness a miracle: wisteria pours up walls; slices of sky show through the high arches of a bell tower; water leaks nonstop from the spouts of a half-sunken marble boast in the Piazza di Spagna. A church floor looks soft as flesh; the skin from a ball of mozzarella cheese tastes rich enough to change my life.”

You should imagine me having flashbacks to THIS post with that last line!!

And on parenting twins (which is like parenting single babies except it’s not):

“Having a baby is like bringing a noisy, inarticulate foreigner into your house and trying to guess what he likes to eat.'

“Watching teething babies is like watching over a thermonuclear reactor--it is best done in shifts, by well-rested people.”

“To be a parent and take an occasional day off from being a parent is a special kind of joy—a lightening, a sweetness made sweeter by its impermanence.”

On writing:

“A good journal entry- like a good song, or sketch, or photograph- ought to break up the habitual and lift away the film that forms over the eye, the finger, the tongue, the heart. A good journal entry ought to be a love letter to the world.”

“And doesn't a writer do the same thing? Isn't she knitting together scraps of dreams? She hunts down the most vivid details and links them in sequences that will let a reader see, smell, and hear a world that seems complete in itself; she builds a stage set and painstakingly hides all the struts and wires and nail holes, then stands back and hopes whoever might come to see it will believe.”

I had another half dozen quotes I killed from this post because at some point I need to worry about copyright issues. If you haven’t read this book yet, I’m excited that this is in your future. Nothing but a pleasure to read!