“In my interest, in any case, was not Venice per se but people who live in Venice, which is not the same thing. Nor, apparently, had it been a common approach inbooks about Venice. The best-known novels and movies set in Venice tended to be about people who were just passing through: Death in Venice, The Wings of the Dove, The Aspern Papers, Don’t Look Now, Summertime, Across the River and Into the Tres, The Comfort of Strangers. The main characters of all these stories, and many more besides, were neither Venetians nor resident expatriates. They were trasnsients. My view of Venice would focus on people who, for the most part, lived there”
True to his word, John Berendt did just that in this bestseller The City of Falling Angels. I first fell in love with John Berendt’s work when I first read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil about nine years ago. When I saw this title at a local library booksale, I immediately snatched it up before anyone else had a chance to lay their eyes over it. City of Falling Angels is a also a non-fiction piece tracing the mysterious fire that set the Fenice ablaze, destroying rich Venetian history for reasons unknown. During his time in Venice, John meets a number of interesting and colorful residents, from minor royalty, to American expatriates. There are smaller scandels, corrupt non-profit beaurocracies. Count Marcello tells John that “Venetians never tell the truth. We mean precisely the opposite of what we say” and through the series of stories delving in the past lives of Venetians residents, we see many elements of betrayal, confusion and disaster. Despite it all, Venice still manages to fascinate tourists (which, after reading this book, I don’t think I want to be a tourist in Venice) and engage the active residents into a unique form of solidarity.
John Berendt’s rich descriptions of the city and characters, his sharp wit and charming personality shine through this book. Once you open to page one, you can almost hear his voice talking to you, telling you a story about a land far far away. This plays out like a dystopian fairy tale, set in real life in the 1990’s. You might have to be a part of the social elite to recognize some of the name dropping he does in the book. Bob and Bea Guthrie, head of the Save Venice foundation, Ezra Pound and Olga Rouge, Jane Ryland, to name a few. At the end of the book there is a glossary of Italian words used in the book, as well as two smaller apendices listing the notable names, and the locations mentioned.
I really enjoyed this book, its not a quick read, there is a lot of absorb and a lot of storylines to keep straight, but its all well worth it for an mentally visual trip into Venice.