Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants
Number of pages
***#2 on Livres Hebdo fiction best-seller list***
***Winner of the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens 2010***
***Short-listed for the Prix Goncourt***
***Translation sample available***
Homeric in its scope and grandeur, remarkable in its detail, Énard’s American debut is a screaming take on history, war, and violence.
—Publishers Weekly starred review of Zone
(Open Letter Books, December 2010)
Mathias Énard imagines the true story of Michelangelo’s trip to Constantinople in 1506 to design a bridge over the Bosphorus.
After Leonardo da Vinci failed to convince the Sultan to adopt his plan for a bridge spanning the Golden Horn, it is believed that the ruler of the Ottoman Empire, Bayezid II, called upon the young but already famous Michelangelo Buonarroti to fulfill his dream. The Florentine artist accepts the commission, flattered to be asked to take over from none other than the great Leonardo, and irked with the Pope who was late paying him.
The novel opens as Michelangelo arrives in Constantinople on May 13, 1506, having just completed the statue of David in Florence, and leaving behind Jules II’s unfinished sepulcher in Rome. Upon arrival, he is assigned an interpreter, is befriended by the Sultan’s court poet Mesihi di Pristina, as well as a local businessman: Together they initiate him into the city’s hidden pleasures. One night out with his friends, he falls in love with an androgynous Andalusian performer who will later be part of a tragic love triangle made up of the artist, the poet, and the dancer.
Despite the city’s many distractions and the artists’ inner turmoil, the plan for the bridge is completed and approved by the Sultan. A few years later, with construction just begun, and just as Michelangelo begins work on the Sistine Chapel back in Rome, an earthquake destroys the bridge’s foundations, and the project never sees the light of day.
Against a backdrop of silk and spice, exotic animals and ethereal beauty, Énard weaves a true story into the sensual and elegant tale of what might have been a determining oriental experience for Michelangelo, and of the building of a bridge that would have been one more treasure by one of the most important artists of all time. A little-known fact ties this story to the present day: A project is underway today in Istanbul to build not Michelangelo’s but Leonardo da Vinci’s original bridge.
Mathias Énard : Mathias Énard is the prize-winning author of La Perfection du tir (Prix des Cinq Continents, 2003), Remonter l’Orénoque (2005), and Zone (Prix Décembre, 2008, and Prix du Livre Inter, 2009).