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This book is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, This book is published by one of the leading UK small presses, Fitzcarraldo Editions an independent publisher their words specialising in contemporary fiction and long form essays it focuses on ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing, both in translation and in the English language Their novels are my words distinctively and beautifully styled, with plain, deep blue covers and a French flap style, and are often complex and dense This book is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, This book is published by one of the leading UK small presses, Fitzcarraldo Editions an independent publisher their words specialising in contemporary fiction and long form essays it focuses on ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing, both in translation and in the English language Their novels are my words distinctively and beautifully styled, with plain, deep blue covers and a French flap style, and are often complex and dense.Perhaps noneso than Compass by Mathias Enard originally published as Bousolle in French in 2015, it was translated by Charlotte Mandell and published by Fitzcarraldo in 2017 and went on to be longlisted for the 2018 Republic of Consciousness Prize and shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize.I described that book as a Sebald esque meditation on the Middle East particularly Syria, Iran and Turkey , on Orientalism, and the relationships and interactions of Westerners archaeologists, writers, musicians, academics with that area over the last few centuries , as important but ultimately enjoyable but at times turning into some form of cultural essay or doctoral thesisThis book although only just translated into English, also by Charlotte Mandell, was originally published 5 years before Bousolle and, while stylistically very different an easy to read novella is thematically very similar and in fact was clearly the literary precursor to the ideas that Enard explored inif at times excessive detail in his later book.The book draws on established historical fact, and some ambiguous archival evidence, to build a speculative fictional tale.In the early 1500s, an out of work Leonardo da Vinci, was in contact with the Court of the Ottoman empire, about a possible job in the court and a number of engineering proposals, including bridge in the form of a single parabolic arch across the Golden Horn from Stambul to Pera Galata After rejecting da Vinci s proposed bridge it is then believed that in 1506 the Ottoman Emperor s court approached da Vinci s rival Michelangelo for an alternative proposal Michelangelo was then in dispute with the Pope over payment for his work The opening of this book deftly sketches out the above but whereas history tells us that Michelangelo rejected the request due to his Christian faith, the book posits that he did in fact accept and spent a period in Istanbul designing the bridge There he is befriended by the real life poet Mesihi who was under the sponsorship of the Grand Vizier is entranced by both the Byzantine and Ottoman architecture and design that he sees as well as the cosmopolitan nature of the City where different faiths, races and nations mingle is besotted with a singer a refugee from the fall of Grenada and the end of Al Andalus frustrated by once again being at the economic mercy of a great and parsimonious ruler narrowly escapes being killed in a place intrigue Returning to Italy an epilogue points out that in 1509 the Constantinople Earthquake would have obliterated the traces of Michelangelo s bridge and therefore the impression that he made on Istanbul but the book implicitly argues that the reverse is not true and that his trip to Istanbul made an indelible impression on his future work The five silver anklets around the slim leg, the dress with its orangery tint, the golden shoulder and the beauty spot and the base of the neck will show up in a corner of the Sistine chapel a few years later In painting as in architecture, the work of Michelangelo Buonarroti will own much to Istanbul His gaze is transformed by the city and otherness scenes, colours, forms will permeate his work for the rest of his life The cupola of St Peter is inspired by Santa Sophia and Bayezid s mosque the library of the Medicis is inspired by the Sultan s which he visits with Manuel the statues in the chapel of the Medicis and even the Moises for Julius II bear the imprint of attitudes and characters he met her, in ConstantinopleThis theme of intermingling of the Orient and the Occidental in art is of course explored in much greater depth in Compass Interestingly whereas Compass was, in my view, both too erudite and excessively detailed I almost felt the opposite with this book Even from my limited knowledge of historical and present day Istanbul, I felt there were some thematic links which were omitted from the tale.For example I was surprised not to see a reference to events in the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 in particular the notorious sea chain, a crucial part of the Cities defences which was dragged across the entrance to the Golden Horn to prevent sea attack on the Northern shore the famous land walls protecting against a land attack how the chain failed in 1453 after the audacious manoeuvre by the Ottoman army to drag their boats across land and down into the Golden Horn how the first Ottoman bridge across the Golden Horn was the pontoon of boats that was built in the final stages of the siege Also given the author s key underlying theme the bridge of East and West to concentrate on a bridge across the Golden Horn, rather than another of Da Vinci s proposals a bridge across the Bosphorus Straits , one even Da Vinci identified as linking Europe and Asia seems a strange decision, albeit necessary if taking Michelangelo as subject Nevertheless this was an enjoyable, stimulating and evocative read I have been hearing great things about nard for some time, but had never read him, and I chose to start with this one mostly because it is a short one I found it an enjoyable and interesting book, which blends historical fact and fiction.The plot has some elements of truth, but most of it is fictional in 1506 Michelangelo was invited to design a bridge over the Golden Horn for the Sultan, after a previous design by Leonardo da Vinci was rejected, but the project never came to fruition and th I have been hearing great things about nard for some time, but had never read him, and I chose to start with this one mostly because it is a short one I found it an enjoyable and interesting book, which blends historical fact and fiction.The plot has some elements of truth, but most of it is fictional in 1506 Michelangelo was invited to design a bridge over the Golden Horn for the Sultan, after a previous design by Leonardo da Vinci was rejected, but the project never came to fruition and there is no evidence that the real Michelangelo ever visited Turkey This book imagines what might have happened had he accepted, and met another real character, the poet Mesihi of Prishtina nard s recreation of 16th century Turkey and the effect it would have had on a European new to it is impressive and lively 3.5 This historical novel presents East and West as equal, equivalent, and with at least as many similarities as differences for, as anyone who s encountered the Ottomans on an Early Modern Europe curriculum will know, that s pretty much how it was in the 16th century, before the Industrial Revolution, European colonialism and petropolitics It s a valuable perspective to show 21st century readers, but if you ve heard it plenty of times before since A Levels in the 1990s in my case , its pr 3.5 This historical novel presents East and West as equal, equivalent, and with at least as many similarities as differences for, as anyone who s encountered the Ottomans on an Early Modern Europe curriculum will know, that s pretty much how it was in the 16th century, before the Industrial Revolution, European colonialism and petropolitics It s a valuable perspective to show 21st century readers, but if you ve heard it plenty of times before since A Levels in the 1990s in my case , its presentation here doesn t make for the freshest historical fiction And not too many of those who could do with a new way of looking at the Muslim world will be picking up literary novellas, especially in translation from small presses In Mathias nard s work, the Mediterranean is a cultural and historical unit in which Southern Europe is strongly connected to the Near East and North Africa To an extent he follows his French compatriot, the historian Fernand Braudel, who wrote extensively about the Med, but nard s scholarship in Middle Eastern languages, and residence in the area and in Spain increase his emphasis on the non European, portion of the region Battles, Kings and Elephants was first published in French in 2010, and seems just as, if notrelevant, nine years later in English It tells of an imagined visit by Michelangelo to Constantinople in 1506 he has been commissioned by Sultan Bayezid II to design a bridge that will span the Golden Horn waterway a project for which Leonardo da Vinci has previously provided an unsatisfactory plan The work and location is intimidating, but he s feeling out of favour at home especially with the papal court , and there s a lot of money to be made the same factors and emotions playing these days on Westerners who take jobs in Dubai Within this narrative about a great Florentine artist abroad, nard presents the usual details that make up a syllabus on the Ottomans the Fall Conquest of Constantinople a big name Sultan Janissaries a powerful vizier religious tolerance contrasting with the increasing authoritarianism that would mark the Reformation and Counter Reformation in Europe far reaching trade enslavement, in particular of people from the Balkans and Central Asia, a few of whom managed to rise to high rank at court, but most of whom were labourers There are similar points on Southern Europe, such as the Spanish Reconquista, Lorenzo de Medici and the corrupt papacy of Julius II And for all that he has an atmospheric writing style, the brevity of the book combined with the frequency of these references to the sort of items found on a 16 18 history curriculum meant it felt too often like historical fiction constructed on box ticking The less well known and fictional details are inevitablyinteresting characters such as hard drinking court poet Mesihi of Prishtina, who befriends Michelangelo the material from a real 16th century Italian biography of the artist from Michelangelo s letters home from Constantinople, and his diary in which he made lists of objects apparently encountered that day apparent Constantinople influences in Michelangelo s subsequent work and especially the recently discovered primary documents that included an inventory of items the artist left behind in his room when he hurriedly left Constantinople.I loved the two narratives awareness of the sands of time The main, omniscient third person narration, which tells the bulk of the story and follows Michelangelo, comments on what has and has not survived in historical records This is interpolated with short bursts of first person narrative the voice of a beautiful, androgynous singer and dancer who beguiles Michelangelo This narrator has a pessimistic certainty about what will not survive it is the voice of one who has fled a diminished and then destroyed kingdom Much of what they say feels right, existentially although 500 years later, Michelangelo s fame is even greater than it was in his lifetime, belyingNothing of your time here will remain Traces, clues, an edifice Like my vanished country, over there, at the other end of the sea The beautiful androgyne was, as a child, a refugee from Ferdinand and Isabella s 1492 conquest of Grenada a refugee fleeing Europe for atolerant society in the Middle East, the mirror image of the contemporary flow of people This is another of the ways in which the Ottomans both in this book and in general historical accounts are shown to becivilised by late 20th 21st century standards than was Renaissance Western Europe, like the greater acceptance of male homosexuality and bisexuality, and educated men s disdain for watching public executions However, Ottoman slavery is not glossed over the enslaved people who are most prominent in the narrative are lucky and talented ones, but there are also scenes showing the auction of slaves who will be forced into manual labour and prostitution Slaves in prestigious roles, such Mesihi and the singer, see Michelangelo as similar to themselves and this is hardly whataboutism because the Renaissance artist, with next to no mass market for their work, was wholly dependent on the whims of royalty, nobility and prelates who had the power to order execution or assassination The Ottoman characters seem to havemelancholy resignation to their fate, whilst Michelangelo champs at the bit an individualist Western artist in the Romantic mould who feels strongly that he should not have to be so subject to other men, but also abjectly, and sometimes confusedly, god fearing The reckless romanticism displayed here from both Ottoman artists and Michelangelo iscommonly associated with Western art and culture of the 19th and 20th centuries, but was also visible in early modern France, in 15th century vagabond poet Fran ois Villon one could perhaps draw parallels between Villon and Mesihi Most of the book meanders along in a dream like state whilst it critiques narratives of the heady, perfumed exoticism of the east, it can t quite help replicating them because it is about the opulent Ottoman court, full of characters whose lives depended on royal favour, who liked beautiful objects and intoxicants This languid existence segues abruptly into an almost James Bond like d noument, which brought to mind those historical detective series in which some famous person of the past plays investigator The pacing felt skewed, but on the other hand, there was never any shortage of intrigue at 16th century courts, and it was an era of sudden fleeings for everyone from epidemic and war as well as from individual violence.Whilst reading the novel, I considered looking for the biography of Michelangelo by his friend Ascanio Condivi, to which nard refers, to check what was fact and what fiction But I was then entirely taken in by the author s in universe Afterword, as, due to his attention to detail, this research now seemed unnecessary I had to rewrite several paragraphs of this review once I realised my mistake, a few hours after posting an earlier version on Goodreads Thanks to the early paragraphs of Eric Anderson s review, in particular this article, for saving me fromprolonged embarrassment nard writes this Afterword as if it is factual, and, not having studied the 16th century for some years before 2010, and being sporadic at that time in what I kept up with, it seemed plausible that I simply hadn t heard of these documents I hadn t previously heard of Michelangelo going to Constantinople to design a bridge, but then I d never read a book length biography of him, though I had at one point had to write down his name often enough that the memory of note to self becoming reflex is present every time I write it Michelangelo like the French Michel, and not Michaelangelo I was slightly too old to have had this spelling drummed into me by Turtles comics Perhaps most bewitching of all in the novel itself is the relation of details of the Sistine Chapel paintings work on which began a few years later to the artist s sojourn in Constantinople David s scimitar, a bunch of silver anklets, Adam s alleged resemblance to Mesihi It is the sort of speculation one can imagine voiced by Andrew Graham Dixon in a BBC art history documentary Perhaps Battles, Kings Elephants is a fun, lighter story by an author of big serious novels putting his feet up for a while Or perhaps it s saying something not unlike the Jonathan Jones Guardian article linked above about the way history can be slanted and interpreted to fit the needs of the time or the teller, or it s part of the author s critique of his own view of the Mediterranean as a region of interchange and maybe of early 21st century history s emphasis on international trade.To add a further layer of research I still haven t done, it would probably be instructive to readinterviews with nard, ones which touch on this book rather than on Compass, as do the couple of English interviews I ve seen If the novel is longlisted for the International Booker, I will do that, and return to this post again I may also re read it Battles Kings Elephants is a very short novel which many literary readers will consume in 1 3 sittings I read much of it in small bits, often groggy from insomnia or insufficient sleep, and as a result I felt as if it dragged so my impressions of its pacing may not be representative In the other nard novel I ve read, Street of Thieves, like Battles, Kings and Elephants, a short work with a predominantly linear narrative as opposed to his experimental tomes Zone and Compass I felt as if I may have learned something, and heard the voice of a character not often found elsewhere a young Moroccan man in low paid work, with a moderate stance on religion, and a fan of French thrillers Whereas much of the material in Battles, Kings and Elephants may not offer enough novelty and excitement for readers who ve studied the 16th century Ottomans and the Italian Renaissance a longer novel which hadroom for story and description, and less dependence on basic historical references, may have got past that problem Although the question of potential for deeper meaning in its fiction may give something to think about This probably deservesthan the 3 star rating I have given it I came to view this as a quaint picturesque type endeavour,artistic feeling than plot Open any page and you will be well rewarded with some elegant and delicate prose, some lovely impression of 16th century Constantinople and the workings of Michelangelo but and here I lower my voice to a whisper it was just a teensy weensy bit dull It was certainly a nice palate cleanser betweensubstantial novels. This short novella there is a LOT of white space in these 144 pages can and probably SHOULD be read in a single sitting the fact that due to other obligations I had to spread it over 3 days undoubtedly weakened its effect, but it remains an intriguing and powerful what if derived from scattered historical artifacts. If I hadn t read some articles in the past such as Bridging the gap the east west divide in art , I d have entirely believed the central story of Mathias Enard s new novel It s true that Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were invited by Turkish rulers in Constantinople to design a bridge over the Golden Horn, but neither ever journeyed to this Eastern superpower However, Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants imagines Michelangelo travelling to work for the sultan in the summer of 15 If I hadn t read some articles in the past such as Bridging the gap the east west divide in art , I d have entirely believed the central story of Mathias Enard s new novel It s true that Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were invited by Turkish rulers in Constantinople to design a bridge over the Golden Horn, but neither ever journeyed to this Eastern superpower However, Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants imagines Michelangelo travelling to work for the sultan in the summer of 1506 He s embittered by Pope Julius II failing to deliver timely payments for commissions and enlivened by the thought of surpassing the talent of his rival Leonardo da Vinci whose design was rejected During this stolen season, Michelangelo comes into contact with Muslim culture and people outside of his staunch Christian beliefs An encounter with a mesmerising androgynous dancer also prompts him to adopt afluid attitude towards sexuality and gender It s a brilliantly told fantastical tale that plays on ideas concerning history and the power of story telling Read my full review of Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Mathias Enard on LonesomeReader |DOWNLOAD KINDLE ⚇ Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d'éléphants ⚆ En d barquant Constantinople lemai , Michel Ange sait qu il brave la puissance et la col re de Jules II, pape guerrier et mauvais payeur, dont il a laiss en chantier l dification du tombeau, Rome Mais comment ne pas r pondre l invitation du sultan Bajazet qui lui propose apr s avoir refus les plans de L onard de Vinci, de concevoir un pont sur la Corne d Or Ainsi commence ce roman, tout en fr lements historiques, qui s empare d un fait exact pour d ployer les myst res de ce voyageTroublant comme la rencontre de l homme de la Renaissance avec les beaut s du monde ottoman, pr cis et cisel comme une pi ce d orf vrerie, ce portrait de l artiste au travail est aussi une fascinante r flexion sur l acte de cr er et sur le symbole d un geste inachev vers l autre rive de la civilisationCar travers la chronique de ces quelques semaines oubli es de l Histoire Mathias Enard esquisse une g ographie politique dont les h sitations sont toujours aussi sensibles cinq si cles plus tard Beautifully written possible history of Michelangelo visiting the city of Constantinople in 1503 to design a bridge for the Sultan This story is pulled together from scant documents found in Ottoman archives regarding sketches Michelangelo drew of a bridge, which was never built I loved getting to know Michelangelo in all of his stinky ness and personal and professional insecurities. Beauty comes from abandoning the refuge of the old forms for the uncertainty of the present.This is an exercise, a bagatelle, a longing glance at the history of art perhaps a teleology of East and West The last point is dubious, worse, it is a distraction During the early 16C Michelangelo was invited to Constantinople to design a bridge Mathias Enard has given us febrile visions of what such might have involved Ottoman images stand in relief to Renaissance ordering interesting the artist s Beauty comes from abandoning the refuge of the old forms for the uncertainty of the present.This is an exercise, a bagatelle, a longing glance at the history of art perhaps a teleology of East and West The last point is dubious, worse, it is a distraction During the early 16C Michelangelo was invited to Constantinople to design a bridge Mathias Enard has given us febrile visions of what such might have involved Ottoman images stand in relief to Renaissance ordering interesting the artist s predilection for lists The images are indeed opulent but the actors are but wisps, dialogue is fleeting except for the recited verse I found this intriguing but it ultimately only whets the appetite to read Compass again This is a unique fictionalization of Michelangelo s trip to Istanbul to design a bridge for the city Apparently, construction was begun on the bridge, but it was significantly damaged by an earthquake and never finished The writing is immersive, drawing the reader deeply into the mind and emotions of the various characters Not a lot happens, but I still enjoyed reading this brief, beautiful book nevertheless.