From lightning-lashed November to sun-fried July, Doerr makes a succulent meal of his year as a wide-eyed mid-Western writer on a fellowship in Rome.
Two qualities lift this book above the herd of American-abroad travelogues. First, his writing is fleet and sharp, fixing monuments, neighbours, dishes and Popes (John Paul II dies during his stay) with a radiant image, not a purple passage. Second, it's a book about the foreign country of fatherhood. Twin baby sons ease his path through Roman life and mock his "hopelessly hilarious" ambitions. While the "city of always" bewitches him, parenthood demands "a kind of love that has no conclusions".