Stephen Durrant's Reviews > Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d'éléphants

Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d'éléphants by Mathias Énard
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Oct 03, 10

Read in October, 2010

Again, 4.5 if the half-star were available! This is a fine example of compelling fiction built up from a few tantalizing historical facts. The facts are that Michaelangelo was invited by the Ottoman Sultan in 1506 to submit a proposal for a bridge across the Golden Horn. Michaelangelo's earliest biographer claims that he refused this offer, but a recent discovery in the Ottoman archives indicates that he did submit a sketch for a bridge and may even have paid a short visit to Istanbul at the invitation of the Sultan. Enard turns these few, tantalizing facts, into a story of an encounter between East and West and a failed attempt to bridge the two worlds, with Michaelangelo and the contemporary Turkish poet Meshihi playing the primary roles. It is also a story of frustrated love, artistic inspiration, and mysterious intrigue, with the reader only slowly coming to understand what is really afoot. Enard cleverly suggests echoes of Michaelangelo's visit to Istanbul in the artist's later work, particularly on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But it is Michaelangelo's blocked sexuality, and Meshihi's self-sacrificing longing that are at the heart of this beautiful and timely novel. "Parle-leur de batailles" is on the long list for this year's Goncourt Prize. Let's hope it makes the short list which is announced this week.
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