In 1506, Michelangelo―a young but already renowned sculptor―is invited by the Sultan of Constantinople to design a bridge over the Golden Horn. Constructed from real historical fragments, Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants is a story about why stories are told, why bridges are built, and how seemingly unmatched pieces, seen from the opposite sides of civilization, can mirror one another.
The novel, translated by Charlotte Mandell and originally published in 2010, is comprised of short, fragmented chapters. Compared to the author's 500-plus page, one-sentence-long novel Zone, it is a masterful exercise in brevity. It also kept me guessing, as it moves quickly from one scene to the next, never letting you get too comfortable in one place ... Énard's descriptions consistently dazzle throughout this short book ... Énard weaves an imaginative and suspenseful tale of civilizations and personalities clashing, of love, of being an artist in a violent era, of enthralling 'what ifs,' and of the figurative — and perhaps literal — burning of bridges and connections. As the novel is grounded in concrete facts, what I love best is how well Énard manages to blur the lines of truth and fiction ... Énard's prose is vivid and elliptical, and his novel, like the sculptor's intricate designs, is a true achievement in form.
His beguiling, feather-light fantasy follows Michelangelo’s reluctant immersion into the wonders of the city, a far more sensuous place than the ascetic artist has known in Italy. Mr. Énard fits a thwarted love story and a murder into his tale but his deepest engagement is with the bridge ... In this charming little reverie of a book, inspiration springs from our unguarded confrontations with the unfamiliar.
All the characters are genuinely likable and relatable, especially in their flaws ... A snappy writing style and changing viewpoints make the pages of this debut fly by as readers will want to know what happens next.