cover image Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants

Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants

Mathias Énard, trans. from the French by Charlotte Mandell. New Directions, $19.95 (144p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2704-9

Énard is known for his monolithic novels Zone and Compass (winner of the Prix Goncourt), making his latest translation into English, a slim and studious volume, a surprising and exciting break from form. Set in 1506, it is the story of Michelangelo Buonarotti, still in his early 30s and not yet at the height of his renown, smarting from his perceived crude treatment at the hands of the Pope and eager to outdo his rivals, Leonardo Da Vinci and Raphael. The proud artist leaves Rome to accept a commission from the Sultan Ali Pasha of Constantinople to design the bridge that will connect the great city with the greater Holy Roman Empire. But in Constantinople, Michelangelo finds himself beguiled by the company he keeps: Manuel the translator, Mesihi the poet, and the page Falachi, with whom Michelangelo is something more than friends. Michelangelo spends his days in Constantinople arduously designing the bridge, and his nights in almost psychedelic debauchery. The flavors of the East will prove transformative to the Florentine, as Renaissance sensibility collides with the flourishing Muslim world, leaving him to conclude that “we all ape God in His absence.” a historical novel of exquisite beauty. (Nov.)