“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr has a piece of my heart, one of those books that makes me sigh whenever I see its spine on the bookshelf. I wish I could forget every word I read and then discover it all over again. The winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction tells the story of a blind French girl and a German boy as they try to survive the devastation of the Second World War. It’s heartbreaking. It’s beautiful. Doerr’s language casts a spell.
I came across “Four Seasons in Rome” as I was hunting through the shelves at Pilgrims Bookstore in Thamel, Kathmandu, looking for something fun and uplifting to read. I’d had a rather long bout of bad luck with books. I was sure Doerr would get me out of the rut. He did. And how.
Four Seasons in Rome is a memoir/travel book about a year in Doerr’s life after he wins a prestigious award. The prize is a year in Rome with a writing studio and an apartment at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He gets the news on the day his wife gives birth to twins. As he was already researching for what would go on to become the bestselling novel, All the Light We Cannot See, he figures he could use a year to sit down, focus, and write. So, the couple moves to Rome when the twins are just six-months old.
This relatively short book (compared to his other works) is a breezy read, one that takes you into the heart of fascinating alleyways, sweet-smelling bakeries, and stunning architectural marvels of Rome. It makes you want to get on the next flight to discover the city for yourself. His detailed descriptions paint a vivid picture and you want to be there, taking it all in.
Though the book is mainly about Rome and navigating life in a new city where everything feels foreign yet familiar at the same time, it’s also equally about parenthood, the bittersweetness of life, and the ultimate truth that everything is impermanent. Doerr keeps reminding you that life is “sweet, made sweeter because of its impermanence”. His words wash over you and often succeed in getting you to put the book down and take a minute to be grateful for all that you have.
However, Doerr’s strongest point is the way he writes. He isn’t writing to impress. He keeps things simple, which is often the hardest thing to do when writing. It keeps you engaged and intrigued. Reading Four Seasons in Rome is like having a one-on-one conversation with the author—one that has you falling in love right from the start.