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A Month in Siena
Cover of A Month in Siena
A Month in Siena
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From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Return comes a profoundly moving contemplation of the relationship between art and life.
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND EVENING STANDARD

After finishing his powerful memoir The Return, Hisham Matar, seeking solace and pleasure, traveled to Siena, Italy. Always finding comfort and clarity in great art, Matar immersed himself in eight significant works from the Sienese School of painting, which flourished from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. Artists he had admired throughout his life, including Duccio and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, evoke earlier engagements he’d had with works by Caravaggio and Poussin, and the personal experiences that surrounded those moments.
Including beautiful full-color reproductions of the artworks, A Month in Siena is about what occurred between Matar, those paintings, and the city. That month would be an extraordinary period in the writer’s life: an exploration of how art can console and disturb in equal measure, as well as an intimate encounter with a city and its inhabitants. This is a gorgeous meditation on how centuries-old art can illuminate our own inner landscape—current relationships, long-lasting love, grief, intimacy, and solitude—and shed further light on the present world around us.
Praise for A Month in Siena
“As exquisitely structured as The Return, driven by desire, yearning, loss, illuminated by the kindness of strangers. A Month in Siena is a triumph.”—Peter Carey
From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Return comes a profoundly moving contemplation of the relationship between art and life.
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND EVENING STANDARD

After finishing his powerful memoir The Return, Hisham Matar, seeking solace and pleasure, traveled to Siena, Italy. Always finding comfort and clarity in great art, Matar immersed himself in eight significant works from the Sienese School of painting, which flourished from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. Artists he had admired throughout his life, including Duccio and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, evoke earlier engagements he’d had with works by Caravaggio and Poussin, and the personal experiences that surrounded those moments.
Including beautiful full-color reproductions of the artworks, A Month in Siena is about what occurred between Matar, those paintings, and the city. That month would be an extraordinary period in the writer’s life: an exploration of how art can console and disturb in equal measure, as well as an intimate encounter with a city and its inhabitants. This is a gorgeous meditation on how centuries-old art can illuminate our own inner landscape—current relationships, long-lasting love, grief, intimacy, and solitude—and shed further light on the present world around us.
Praise for A Month in Siena
“As exquisitely structured as The Return, driven by desire, yearning, loss, illuminated by the kindness of strangers. A Month in Siena is a triumph.”—Peter Carey
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  • From the cover chapter 1

    DUCCIO’S DOOR

    After more than three decades of being away I went back to Libya, the place where I grew up, the country of my origin, the setting-off place from where I had traveled, going further and further away. Returning changed how the past and future seemed. I felt compelled to write about it. Three years later I completed the book and emerged from that long period of concentrated work blinking into the light. It was then that I decided to go to Siena. I have for a long time been interested in Sienese art. But, now that I was finally going, my mind began to devise ways of delaying my arrival. It was as though the long years of anticipation had created a reticence. And so I complicated how I was to get there. As Siena does not have an airport, I considered flying to Florence and walking the 80 kilometers or so across the Chianti hills. I convinced myself of this on the grounds that I liked the idea of small steps covering a long distance and of finally entering the city on foot. But, a week before I was due to depart, I had, in an embarrassingly undramatic accident—in fact, by simply turning direction—twisted my knee. The pain was tremendous. When I asked the doctor how I could cause such damage by doing so little, he looked at me and said, “It happens.” He then told me that I should definitely not undertake any long-distance walks. I regretted booking the flat in Siena. I had found it after only fifteen minutes of searching online and had already paid the deposit.

    My knee had not fully recovered, but I made up my mind nonetheless to fly on the planned date. My wife, Diana, decided to join me for a couple of days. She was, in effect, delivering me there. She seemed to know better than I did my need for this trip. The only tickets we could find were on Swissair. I was born in 1970 and, even though we lived in Tripoli, most of the travel my parents did throughout my childhood was on that airline. I still associate it with adventure and reliability. But on our second leg, flying from Zurich to Florence, and just as we were crossing over the snow-capped Alps, with their dramatic ravines gashed deeper where the narrow streams of melted snow ran black, the airplane suddenly turned full circle and began traveling in the opposite direction. A few minutes later the captain spoke. He said that due to a mechanical fault we had to return to Zurich. No further explanation was offered. I calculated that it would have taken us forty minutes to reach Florence and now it would take about half an hour to return to Zurich. What could have possibly gone wrong for the plane to be judged unfit to fly that extra ten minutes? Diana held my hand. I made some joke about how nice it would be to spend a few days in the Alps. She smiled cautiously and remained quiet. The plane was full and when it suddenly shook a little, some passengers could not help but let out a shallow murmur of panic. I heard a woman cry. Otherwise, everyone remained still and silent. I remember thinking I did not mind dying—that it would have to come at some point—but that I was not quite ready yet, that dying now would be a waste, given how much time I had spent learning how to live.

    When the plane landed in Zurich, several of the passengers clapped. Diana and I had a tasteless lunch in the airport. The following flight did not get us into Florence till night. We went into town and had a drink and a bite to eat. We managed to make the last bus to Siena. We laughed about the saga, about how it had taken us as long to get from London to Florence as it would take to fly to India. The bus moved in the dark. It began to rain, and the rain turned...
About the Author-
  • Hisham Matar is the Pulitzer Prizewinning author of the memoir The Return, which also received the PEN/Jean Stein Award and other international prizes, and was selected as one of The New York Times’s Ten Best Books of the Year. His debut novel, In the Country of Men, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won several awards, including the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize and a Commonwealth First Book Award. His second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, was selected as one of the best books of the year by several publications, including the Chicago Tribune and The Guardian. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2013. Born in New York City to Libyan parents, he spent his childhood in Tripoli and Cairo and now divides his time between London and New York, where he teaches literature at Barnard College, Columbia University.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Author Hisham Matar takes the listener on a melancholy amble around Siena, Italy. His somber voice and precise enunciation enhance his eloquent writing. As he considers great masterpieces from the Sienese School of painting and other works that bring insight to his own life, we learn how the power of art can enlighten us. Meditations on art, love, and existence intertwine with musings on his relationships and the people he encounters in the city as he deals with the loss of his father. Matar's detailed descriptions of several works of art, such as Lorenzetti's unsettling painting of the Madonna and child, are vivid, but the listening experience would be enhanced by viewing images as well. J.E.S. � AudioFile 2019, Portland, Maine
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