Books

Exploring the back-catalogue of Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr’s career is not limited to his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All The Light We Cannot See.

I was interested in learning more about this author because, as we know, it can take decades to be “an overnight success”. Anthony’s journey has not been that long. Making a visit to his website worthwhile is the opportunity to read a number of his essays, many based on his travels. They make wonderful reading.

Anthony made his debut as an author in 2002 with a collection published as The Shell Collector, in which:

  • A blind man spends his days roaming the beaches of Kenya collecting shells, classifying them by feeling their whorls, spines and folds in his fingers.
  • A young woman discovers that she can explore the inner world of an animal’s mind by touching its freshly dead body.
  • A refugee from Liberia, who cannot escape the horrors that he has witnessed, finds salvation in the clandestine act of burying the hearts of beached whales,

In each story, as with his longer-form novels, he illuminates the riotous dangers of the natural world and the rocky terrain of the human heart.

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About Grace, published in 2006, is a beautifully written and compelling novel, which tells us about young David Winkler who is crippled by his dreams. At nine, he dreams a man is decapitated by a passing truck on the path outside his family’s home. The next day, unable to prevent it, he witnesses an exact replay of his dream in real life. The premonitions keep coming, unstoppably.

Then, he falls in love at the supermarket (exactly as he already dreamed) with Sandy. They flee south, landing in Ohio, where their daughter Grace is born. But when visions of Grace’s death begin for Winkler, as their waterside home is inundated, he cannot face his destiny and flees. After two decades of not knowing whether Grace survived the flood or met the doom he foretold, he musters the strength to find out.

On the same day that his wife gave birth to twins, Anthony received the Rome Prize, an award that gave him a year-long stipend and studio in Rome, resulting in the memoir Four Seasons in Rome which charts the repercussions of that day, describing Doerr’s varied adventures in one of the most enchanting cities in the world, and the first year of parenthood. This intimate and revelatory book is a celebration of Rome, a wondrous look at new parenthood and a fascinating account of the alchemy of writers.

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Then followed Memory Wallan awesome collection of stories about memory: the source of meaning and coherence in our lives, and the fragile thread that connects us to ourselves and to others.

Included in this collection is:

  • The Deep, which was awarded the 2011 Sunday Times Short Story Award. In the luminous title story, a young boy in South Africa comes to possess an old woman’s secret, a piece of the past with the power to redeem a life.
  • Afterworld, a woman who escaped the Holocaust is haunted by visions of her childhood friends in Germany, yet finds solace in the tender ministrations of her grandson.

I’m particularly keen to read his memoir Four Seasons in Rome (can’t resist a memoir) but I’m also sorely tempted to add all his books to my To Be Read list. Anthony Doerr is no one hit wonder.

Have you read any of the other books by Anthony Doerr? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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