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

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

4.2 14
by Anthony Doerr

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From the author of the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning #1 New York Times bestseller All the Light We Cannot See, a "dazzling" (Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran) memoir about art and adventures in Rome.

Anthony Doerr has received many awards—from the New York Public Library, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the


From the author of the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning #1 New York Times bestseller All the Light We Cannot See, a "dazzling" (Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran) memoir about art and adventures in Rome.

Anthony Doerr has received many awards—from the New York Public Library, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the American Library Association. Then came the Rome Prize, one of the most prestigious awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and with it a stipend and a writing studio in Rome for a year. Doerr learned of the award the day he and his wife returned from the hospital with newborn twins.

Exquisitely observed, Four Seasons in Rome describes Doerr's varied adventures in one of the most enchanting cities in the world. He reads Pliny, Dante, and Keats -- the chroniclers of Rome who came before him—and visits the piazzas, temples, and ancient cisterns they describe. He attends the vigil of a dying Pope John Paul II and takes his twins to the Pantheon in December to wait for snow to fall through the oculus. He and his family are embraced by the butchers, grocers, and bakers of the neighborhood, whose clamor of stories and idiosyncratic child-rearing advice is as compelling as the city itself.

This intimate and revelatory book is a celebration of Rome, a wondrous look at new parenthood, and a fascinating story of a writer's craft—the process by which he transforms what he sees and experiences into sentences.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
On the day his twins were born, novelist Doerr got another big surprise: he won the prestigious Rome Prize. An account of his sojourn with famiglia in the Eternal City. With a three-city tour. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 theirown, 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.
From the Publisher
"Anthony Doerr is dazzling in this book, in the way he celebrates the joys as well as the pain of being a parent and in love, being a writer and being in Rome, reminding us that certain experiences never grow stale when they are expressed through the fresh eyes of a real writer."
— Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran

"Doerr's journal is a love letter written with the ear of a musician, the sensibility of a Buddha, the heart of an inamorato. Rome is the chosen beloved, but Doerr's true subject is writing."
— Sandra Cisneros, author of Caramelo

"I loved this book which, in turn, made me laugh and weep at the relentless twins, Owen and Henry, who never sleep, the descriptions of Rome, the clouds, the light — especially the light — the people Doerr meets on the street, again the light, Pliny, Jonah's feet dangling from the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Shauna's steadfastness, Doerr's generous and intelligent spirit, his discerning eye and his perfect prose. Complimenti!"
— Lily Tuck, author of Interviewing Matisse

"Anthony Doerr found himself in the perfect Eternal City with the eternal Paternal Problem: how to care for two beautiful newborn twins while still doing his work as a writer and student and observer. The result is a funny, precise, touching account of cultural barricades crossed and fatherly exhaustions overcome; a story of the universalities of parenting and the specificities of Roman life that will lift the heart of every parent and delight the mind of every lover of Italy."
— Adam Gopnik, author of Through the Children's Gate and From Paris to the Moon

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Italy looms. We make checklists -- diapers, crib bedding, a book light. Baby formula. Two dozen Nutri-Grain bars. We have never eaten Nutri-Grain bars in our lives, but now, suddenly, it seems important to have some.

I stare at our new Italian-to-English pocket dictionary and worry. Is "Here is my passport" in there? Is "Where for God's sake can I buy some baby wipes?"

We pretend to be calm. Neither of us is willing to consider that tomorrow we'll pile onto an Airbus with six-month-old twins and climb to thirty-seven thousand feet and stay there for fourteen hours. Instead we zip and unzip our duffels, take the wheels off the stroller, and study small, grainy photos of St. Peter's on ricksteves.com.

Rain in Boise; wind in Denver. The airplane hurtles through the troposphere at six hundred miles per hour. Owen sleeps in a mound of blankets between our feet. Henry sleeps in my arms. All the way across the Atlantic, there is turbulence; bulkheads shake, glasses tinkle, galley latches open and close.

We are moving from Boise, Idaho, to Rome, Italy, a place I've never been. When I think of Italy, I imagine decadence, dark brown oil paintings, emperors in sandals. I see a cross-section of a school-project Colosseum, fashioned from glue and sugar cubes; I see a navy-blue-and-white soap dish, bought in Florence, chipped on one corner, that my mother kept beside her bathroom sink for thirty years.

More clearly than anything else, I see a coloring book I once got for Christmas entitled Ancient Rome. Two babies slurped milk from the udders of a wolf. A Caesar grinned in his leafy crown. A slinky, big-pupiled maiden posed with a jug beside a fountain. Whatever Rome was to me then -- seven years old, Christmas night, snowflakes dashing against the windows, a lighted spruce blinking on and off downstairs, crayons strewn across the carpet -- it's hardly clearer now: outlines of elephants and gladiators, cartoonish palaces in the backgrounds, a sense that I had chosen all the wrong colors, aquamarine for chariots, goldenrod for skies.

On the television screen planted in the seat-back in front of me, our little airplane icon streaks past Marseilles, Nice. A bottle of baby formula, lying sideways in the seat pocket, soaks through the fabric and drips onto my carry-on, but I don't reach down to straighten it for fear I will wake Henry. We have crossed from North America to Europe in the time it takes to show a Lindsay Lohan movie and two episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond. The outside temperature is minus sixty degrees Fahrenheit.

A taxi drops us in front of a palace: stucco and travertine, a five-bay façade, a staircase framed by topiaries. The gatekeeper stubs his cigarette on a shoe sole and says, in English, "You're the ones with the twins?" He shakes our hands, gives us a set of keys.

Our apartment is in a building next to the palace. The front gate is nine feet tall and iron and scratched in a thousand places; it looks as if wild dogs have been trying to break into the courtyard. A key unlocks it; we find the entrance around the side. The boys stare up from their car seats with huge eyes. We load them into a cage elevator with wooden doors that swing inward. Two floors rattle past. I hear finches, truck brakes. Neighbors clomp through the stairwell; a door slams. There are the voices of children. The gate, three stories down, clangs hugely.

Our door opens into a narrow hallway. I fill it slowly with bags. Shauna, my wife, carries the babies inside. The apartment is larger than we could have hoped: two bedrooms, two bathrooms, new cabinets, twelve-foot ceilings, tile floors that carry noise. There's an old desk, a navy blue couch. The refrigerator is hidden inside a cupboard. There's a single piece of art: a poster of seven or eight gondolas crossing a harbor, a hazy piazza in the background.

The apartment's jewel is a terrace, which we reach through a narrow door in the corner of the kitchen, as if the architect recognized the need for a doorway only at the last moment. It squats over the building's entrance, thirty feet across, fifty feet up. From it we can look between treetops at jigsaw pieces of Rome: terra-cotta roofs, three or four domes, a double-decker campanile, the scattered green of terrace gardens, everything hazed and strange and impossible.

The air is moist and warm. If anything, it smells vaguely of cabbage.

"This is ours?" Shauna asks. "The whole terrace?" It is. Except for our door, there is no other entrance onto it.

We lower the babies into mismatched cribs that don't look especially safe. A mosquito floats through the kitchen. We share a Nutri-Grain bar. We eat five packages of saltines. We have moved to Italy.

Copyright © 2007 by Anthony Doerr

Meet the Author

Anthony Doerr is the bestselling and prize-winning author of The Shell Collector, About Grace, Four Seasons in Rome and Memory Wall. In 2007 Granta named him as one of their 21 Best Young American Novelists and in 2011 he won the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Prize. Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife and two sons.

Brief Biography

Boise, Idaho
Date of Birth:
October 27, 1973
Place of Birth:
Cleveland, Ohio
B.A., Bowdoin College, 1995; M.F.A., Bowling Green State University, 1999

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Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Sherry_Wine More than 1 year ago
I love to write, and have been complimented on my ability to make a reader feel that they are experiencing my stories. After reading Four Seasons in Rome, I give myself little credit for such talent. Instead, I say that Anthony Doerr is the "Master" of description. I lived every moment of his story with him. I have been to Rome four times, and would live there in a heartbeat if I had the opportunity. The fact that I love Rome, and have also spent time in Trastevere, did make the book more personal for me because I could relate to it in many ways. It brought back good memories, and it was fun to read Mr. Doerr's comments on places, foods, and the culture in general. But one doesn't have to have been to Rome to apprecite the book. He describes everything so well, that your senses are aroused and your emotions rise to the surface. You smell the air, you feel the heat, you hear the sounds of the neighborhood; people greeting people, the motor bikes, the birds, and even the water flowing from fountains. You feel his love and connection to his wife. You feel both the frustrations and the total joy they experience as new parents and you can totally visualize the baby boys by his proud descriptions of them...their physical features and their reactions to their surroundings. You admire his devotion to both work and family. You come to know his surroundings through his eye for detail, and his ability to capture those details in words. And, you even find something beautiful in the midst of great sadness when he describes the events surrounding the death of Pope John Paul II. As I stated...this author is amazing. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading, travel, history, and people. You'll feel like you've walked through Rome, and through the neighborhood where the writer and his family lived. You'll enjoy the surrounding countryside as well, as they take occasional trips out of the hustle-bustle of the city. This book will remain in my personal collection. I know I will read it again...and again. I love the way Doerr writes, and I hope that by readng the work of a writer of his talent, I will personally improve as a writer. My only disappointment was that the book was not longer. I found myself reading more slowly toward the end, because I didn't want to get to the last page!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this little memoir. It's beautifully written in a prose that captures perfectly the beauty, sensuality and chaos of Rome and it's people. I don't know if it would be as delightful to a reader who has never spent time in Rome, but it is one of my top 3 reads of the past year.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After being in Rome with my husband & 2 adult daughers this May what a thrill to come home and read this book. Thanks Anthony Doerr it reminded me of how very much I love Rome.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An enjoyable recounting of a year spent in Rome by the author, his wife and his twin sons on a fellowship. I put it on my reading list because I was hoping for some help with an upcoming trip their. Not very useful in that regard, although it did reaffirm my judgement in wanting to return to the Eternal City.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have just ended my reading of the novel, Four Seasons in Rome and was thoroughly intriqued. It brought back vivid memories of our two trips there and also captured my attention page by page.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was given All the Light We Cannot See as a birthday present, the best novel I have read in a long time. Doerr weaves a charming spell reminiscent of nineteenth century works. His experience as parent of twins paralleled mine so closely I was amazed. This work based upon a grant to live and work in Rome show his mind and large and interesting grasp of life at work. Very soecial.
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