Part memoir, part literary criticism, part culinary and aesthetic travelogue, this loving reflection is a poignant, funny narrative about an American professor spending a year in Rome. A scarred veteran of academic culture wars retreating to a cradle of culture, Barkan is at first hungry, lonely, and uncertain of his intellectual mission. But soon he is appointed unofficial mascot of an eccentric community of gastronomes, becomes virtually bilingual, and falls in love. As the year progresses, he finds his voice as a writer, loses his lover, and definitively returns to America with heart, mind, and body. His memoir is the celebration of a life lived in the uncanny spaces where art and real people intersect.
Barkan's reminiscence is not just about the Renaissance and ancient statuary, or Shakespeare and Mozart, Charles Bukowski and Paul de Man, eggplant antipasto and Brunello di Montalcino, foot fetishism and sulfur baths. At the heart of the narrative--beneath that beguiling surface of irony, humor, and misdirection--is a man of genuine ardor, struggling with what it means to be a homosexual and a Jew, trying to rediscover or reinvent his own intellectual passions. Hilarious, erudite, and lusciously rendered, Satyr Square gives us the whole of a life made up from fragments of Italy, art, food, and longing.
"Barkan's critical prowess is enviable, and the overarching theme of art's universal and everlasting power to represent life is satisfying to anyone dedicated to art or its study."--Publishers Weekly
"Satyr Square is a candid exploration . . . and its triumphs are touchingly personal ones. . . . Everywhere in the book the flashing display of expertise and curiosity coexists with the much tenderer story about loneliness and human contact."--Alan Hollinghurst, The New York Review of Books