In 1506, Michelangelo—a young but already renowned sculptor—is invited by the sultan of Constantinople to design a bridge over the Golden Horn. The sultan has offered, along with an enormous payment, the promise of immortality, since Leonardo da Vinci’s design was rejected: “You will surpass him in glory if you accept, for you will succeed where he has failed, and you will give the world a monument without equal.” Michelangelo, after some hesitation, flees Rome and an irritated Pope Julius II—whose commission he leaves unfinished—and arrives in Constantinople for this truly epic project. Once there, he explores the beauty and wonder of the Ottoman Empire, sketching and describing his impressions along the way, as he struggles to create what could be his greatest architectural masterwork.
Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants—constructed from real historical fragments—is a thrilling page-turner about why stories are told, why bridges are built, and how seemingly unmatched fragments, seen from the opposite sides of civilization, can mirror one another.
All of Énard’s books share the hope of transposing prose into the empyrean of pure sound, where words can never correspond to stable meanings. He’s the composer of a discomposing age.
— Joshua Cohen, New York Times Book Review
A compact yet mesmeric volume.
— The Hudson Review
Even as the tragedies of history are spoken, the listeners are asleep. And yet, Énard remains optimistic, his novels a powerful reminder that the possibility for connection remains.
— Isaac Zisman, The Millions
If all you have is a bridge, then everything begins to look like a chasm; the incessant drive to overcome all differences has, unsurprisingly, created more division. Énard’s radical suggestion has been, instead, to think about who is being connected to whom, and what is being bypassed along the way.
— Denis Zhou, Art in America
Énard weaves an imaginative and suspenseful tale of civilizations and personalities clashing, of love, of being an artist in a violent era.
— Juan Vidal, NPR
In this charming little reverie of a book, inspiration springs from our unguarded confrontations with the unfamiliar.
— Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants (deftly translated, like Énard’s three previous English releases, by Charlotte Mandell) is a tale of bastard genius that might have been, and a cautionary fable about the consequences of parochial timidity.
— Julian Lucas, The New Yorker
Any year Mathias Énard brings us new work is always worth celebrating. He invites us to engage with subjects as intricate as beauty, history and art, and always finds some way to make it still feel vital, leaving you with a resounding sense of hope and generosity. While Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants may at times feel like reading the most beautiful poem as the world slowly degrades around you, it might also convince you that art is invincible. An important idea to hold on to, I think, as we wait for our political pantomimes to play out. Charlotte Mandell translates and the book is a miracle.
— Guy Gunaratne, New Statesman
Énard packs a feast for the senses into this short book.
— Financial Times
Too interesting to pass up.
— Literary Hub
A historical novel of exquisite beauty.
— Publishers Weekly
Necessary — no one writes like Mathias Énard.
— Francine Prose
Énard fuses recollection and scholarly digression into a swirling, hypnotic, stream-of-consciousness narration.
— The Wall Street Journal
This is a lovely, immersive work of fiction.
— Asian Review of Books
[B]eautifully wrought in its simplicity—credit must go to Charlotte Mandell’s translation—with a perfectly paced narrative that reaches a dramatic denouement…Énard’s taut prose carries the reader swiftly and satisfyingly through chapters (which are more like fragments, really) to the extent that one does not wish for the tale to end.
— Irish Times
There is a lush materiality to Énard’s prose, thick and smooth, so that following the artist’s expeditions through Ottoman opium dens feels nearly as immersive as being in them.
— The New York Times
[T]his is a short, elegant, unflashy story, a sort of quiet counterfactual from 500 years ago.
Mathias Énard weaves tantalizing facts and fragments into the tapestry of a slender historical novel.