Here's a dilemma that more of us should face: Your wife gives birth to twins the same day you find out you've won a prestigious award. The prize is a year in Rome, a writing studio and apartment at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a bit of pocket change to keep you in diapers and gelato. Do you take the leap and drag your new babies across the globe, leaving your home and support system behind, for the chance to explore the Eternal City for a year?
Anthony Doerr, author of The Shell Collector and About Grace, answered a resounding yes, fully embracing all that this lucky year would bring. The result is Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World, a touching, funny and sometimes awe-inspiring reflection on what it is to be an American in Italy, a non-Catholic during the vigil of a dying pope and the celebration of a newly chosen one, and a new father of boys who change so quickly it seems to be magic.
Doerr doesn't get much writing done on his planned novel, as one would imagine, surrounded as he is by the intellectual treasures of more than 2,000 years. Instead, he reads Pliny's histories of the world, explores churches and piazzas and neighborhood bakeries, marvels at centuries-old architecture and artistic riches, and the simple joys of the smell of his twins' heads. At one point he forgets he's speaking Italian to the grocer, only to be reminded of his alien status when faced with an alarming medical emergency.
Part love letter to Rome, part fish-out-of-water tale, and so much more than a travelogue, Four Seasons in Rome chronicles the passage of a year one that alternately flies by and drags on with style, wonder and wide-eyed amazement.
Kelly Koepke is a freelance writer in Albuquerque, New Mexico.