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
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.
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.
Read an Excerpt
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