Four Seasons in Rome, a memoir by Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr, best selling author of All the Light We Cannot See, penned this memoir of a year in Rome while on a fellowship at the American Academy. With a style reminiscent of A Moveable Feast, Doerr brings the reader along into experiences that are cultural, romantic, sensual, but most of all, authentic.

The book opens with the author and his wife preparing to leave for a year long all expense paid fellowship at the prestigious Academy. Without even applying, he received the letter of invitation just as his wife was giving birth to twins in a hospital in Idaho.

It seemed ideal. He was already researching All the Light We Cannot See. He could use the year to write the book. But once they get to Rome, Life intervenes.

The author’s normal writing schedule is constantly upended by sleepless nights, frustrating attempts to communicate in a language he doesn’t know and unexpected cultural ambushes.

At the most basic level, the story is entertaining because of the humor and the rollicking tales of family adventure in a foreign culture. It is also enriched by fascinating forays into history and exquisite descriptions that bring you right into Doerr’s Italian experiences like visits to the Pantheon, the Vatican, the Campo Dei Fiori, Trastevere, Testaccio, the Gianicolo Hill, or a weekend in a country house Umbria.

The thing that makes the book truly extraordinary, however, is that it transcends the specific experiences of being in Rome, or having twins, or writing a book. At its core, Four Seasons in Rome is about embracing Life, not as you planned it or wished it would be but as it is.

When he realized that there was no way he could write the novel, Doerr dove into the experience of simply being in Rome. What he and his wife find is Beauty, not a tourist’s version of beauty in Rome, but Beauty with a capital “B”. This is the kind of Beauty that sits beside Love and can only be seen by those who risk living outside the comfortable, the easy and the familiar.

This is my favorite quote from the book:

The mind craves ease; it encourages the senses to recognize symbols, to gloss…Without habit, the beauty of the world would overwhelm us. We’d pass ou every time we saw-actually saw-a flower. Imagine if we only got to see a cumulonimbus cloud or Cassiopeia or a snowfall once a century: there’d be pandemonium in the streets.

…We need habit to get through a day, to get to work, to feed our children. But habit is dangerous, too. The act of seeing can quickly become unconscious and automatic….The easier an experience, or the more entrenched, or the more familiar, the fainter our sensation becomes This is true of chocolate and marriages and hometowns and narrative structures. Complexities wane, miracles become unremarkable, and if we’re not careful, pretty soon we’re gazing out at our lives as if through a burlap sack…

Leave home, leave the country, leave the familiar. Only then can routine experience—buying bread, eating vegetables, even saying hello—become new all over again.

Four Seasons In Rome: On Twins, Insomnia and the Biggest Funeral in the World
Published 2007
224 pages

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