Wendell's Reviews > Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
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's review
Nov 28, 2008

it was ok
Read in June, 2008

Superficiality doesn’t run much deeper than this: If you know next to nothing about Italy, are never planning to visit, and are perfectly content to allow your impressions of the country be informed by *Under the Tuscan Sun*-like romanticism and shameless, treacly sentimentality, then *Four Seasons in Rome* is the travel book for you. Otherwise, Doerr’s constant doses of high-sugar, low-fiber commentary about his and his family’s year in Rome are only going to have you reaching for your insulin pen. Are we really (I mean, are we REALLY??) still at the stage where someone can publish a book about Italy in which his entire contribution to the genre is to rehearse postcard stereotypes and Merchant-Ivory clichés? Call me simple, but I’d truly have thought the market was completely glutted with sixteenth-of-an-inch thick observations on how “wonderful” and “beautiful” Italy is—made by people who don’t speak the language, who never stop being tourists, and whose apparently unlimited financial and other resources insulate them entirely from the realities of Italian life. Being a casual visitor is a fine and respectable pastime, but it doesn’t qualify you to write a book. Doerr, however, is undaunted, awhirl in whimsy and wide-eyed wonder. From his innocent astonishment that tomatoes actually taste good (he does live in Boise, Idaho, after all) to his tired (and tiring) insistence that he and his wife never saw a badly dressed Italian—or a fat one—to his second-rate tour-guide rhapsodies over the Pantheon, Doerr never lets a bromide or a platitude get away from him. When a Roman waiter makes him and his wife wait 90 minutes for their dinner check, Doerr’s only reaction is to go all dewy-eyed over how “relaxed” and “laid back” people are in Italy. Please, Anthony. The waiter was rude. There’s no great mystery to it. It happens all the time in Italy, especially to tourists, especially in Rome, and especially to people who are willing, as the Italians say, to fare il fesso—that is, let someone else make an a** of them. Gird your loins as well, Gentle Reader, for page after darling, cooing page about the marvel of Doerr’s one-year-old twins and for detailed descriptions of just how darn difficult it was to try to wheel them around Rome in a double-stroller that I can only imagine was a special treat for all the people who had to contend with it on buses, down sidewalks, and in museums. But let’s give credit where credit is due: Doerr’s prose is pretty, even poetic. The trouble is, that’s often all it is: a Fabergé egg, a festoon, the rich-and-creamy icing on a cardboard cake. In his 220-plus pages on Rome, there’s almost no there there. (Don’t be misled, either, by the subtitle’s promise of information about “the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World”; Doerr didn’t actually attend, and most of what he knows about it he saw on television.) In more than a few passages, he gets so carried away making perfect little netsuke sentences that he forgets he’s supposed to be transmitting actual meaning in the process. Yes; I admit it. I have a bone to pick: Doerr has nothing particularly interesting, profound, insightful, or new to say about Italy. That sure didn’t keep him from getting a book contract, however, which suggests that attending the right cocktail parties is a sure shot to success. Merit, while appreciated, is not required. And *Four Seasons in Rome* is yet more evidence that, when it comes to anything with the word “Italy” stamped on it, the American public is all too willing to fare il fesso.
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06/05/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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La Petite Américaine THANK YOU. Am reading this for a class and totally having the same impression: under the tuscan sun grade of awful, for people who have never left America, written by someone who never should have left America.

La Petite Américaine I'm back. I reread your review just now and think you may be my new favorite reviewer on goodreads. A Fabergé egg? You're a genius. :)

message 3: by Veronica (new)

Veronica Ha! I haven't read this book and don't intend to, but your review is great! It sounds just like all the "We bought a ruin in France and fixed it up! Aren't we amazing?" books that I hate so much.

La Petite Américaine Yeah, this book sucks so much I literally want to bang my head against the wall. I'm so glad someone on goodreads was able to write just what it was that sucked so much.

message 5: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Meanie!

La Petite Américaine Realist.

message 7: by Gabriella (new)

Gabriella THANM YOU! I love Doerr, I just read Shell Collector after All the Light, BUT I try to pretend this book does not. Fucking. Exist. Just seeing it angers me because I live in Florence (I'm Italian), so I get an angry twitch in my eye at any American/Australian/Brit who continues to think it's cool to wax poetic about Italy. ESPECIALLY when they come here on scholarship prizes (or in the case of the large study abroaders here in Florence, daddy's visa). And also God bless you for the comment on the twin strollers. I get equally angry at tourists' huge rental SUVs that back out of the tiny Florence laneways while im squished against the wall trying to NOT DIE as I go to work.


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