It was seven years ago that Midnight in the
Garden of Good and Evil achieved a record-breaking four-year run
on the New York Times bestseller
list. John Berendt's inimitable brand of nonfiction brought the dark
mystique of Savannah so startlingly to life for millions of people that
tourism to Savannah increased by 46 percent. It is Berendt and only
Berendt who can capture Venicea city of masks, a city of riddles, where
the narrow, meandering passageways form a giant maze, confounding all who
have not grown up wandering into its depths.
Venice, a city steeped in a
thousand years of history, art and architecture, teeters in precarious
balance between endurance and decay. Its architectural treasures
crumblefoundations shift, marble ornaments falleven as efforts to
preserve them are underway.
The City of Falling Angels opens on the evening of January 29, 1996, when a dramatic
fire destroys the historic Fenice opera house. The loss of the Fenice,
where five of Verdi's operas premiered, is a catastrophe for Venetians.
Arriving in Venice three days after the fire, Berendt becomes a kind of
detectiveinquiring into the nature of life in this remarkable
museum-citywhile gradually revealing the truth about the fire.
In the course of his investigations, Berendt introduces us to a rich
cast of characters: a prominent Venetian poet whose shocking "suicide"
prompts his skeptical friends to pursue a murder suspect on their own; the
first family of American expatriates that loses possession of the family
palace after four generations of ownership; an organization of
high-society, partygoing Americans who raise money to preserve the art and
architecture of Venice, while quarreling in public among themselves,
questioning one another's motives and drawing startled Venetians into the
fray; a contemporary Venetian surrealist painter and outrageous
provocateur; the master glassblower of Venice; and numerous others-stool
pigeons, scapegoats, hustlers, sleepwalkers, believers in Martians, the
Plant Man, the Rat Man, and Henry James.
Berendt tells a tale full of atmosphere and surprise as the stories
build, one after the other, ultimately coming together to reveal a world
as finely drawn as a still-life painting. The fire and its aftermath serve
as a leitmotif that runs throughout, adding the elements of chaos,
corruption, and crime and contributing to the ever-mounting suspense of
this brilliant book.
There are countless books written about Venice but, arguably, none written by an author as familiar to readers as John Berendt, whose first book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994), stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for four years and, thanks in part to the 1997 movie of the same name, achieved a fair degree of awareness outside of the USA as well.
Every author hopes that his/her book will make it on to the bestseller lists, but few, even in their wildest imaginations would dare to consider a four year run for their first book. However, such success is something of a double-edged sword as it sets very high expectations for what follows. Berendt has taken 11 years to publish his second book, and many were watching and waiting to see if it could live up to the success of the first.
On the whole, the verdict is yes, it does! (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Jonathan Yardley - The Washington Post
Berendt's inquiry into people,
places and aspects of Venice that tourists almost never see, doesn't
have as strong a narrative line as Midnight, and no one in it is
quite so hilariously and engagingly outre as Lady Chablis, the
Savannah drag queen, but the story of the Fenice fire and its
aftermath is exceptionally interesting, the cast of characters is
suitably various and flamboyant, and Berendt's prose, now as then, is
precise, evocative and witty.
USA Today - Deirdre Donahue
Having read Angels, I cannot stop haunting travel websites in search of cheap fares to Italy. Angels is that good.
The New York Times - Janet Maslin
Once again, Mr. Berendt makes erudite, inquisitive, nicely skeptical company as he leads the reader through the shadows of what was heretofore better known as a tourist attraction. [A]n urbane, beautifully fashioned book with much exotic charm.
...Berendt has delivered an intriguing mosaic of modern life in Venice, which makes for first-rate travel writing, albeit one that lacks a compelling core story to keep one reading into the night.
Booklist - Brad Hooper
This is journalism at its most accomplished; it is creative nonfiction as enveloping and heart embracing as good fiction.
Starred Review. An intriguing tour of mysterious Venice and its most fascinating residents. Berendt does great justice to an exalted city that has rightly fascinated...many...throughout the world.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Valeria Joyal I had a great laugh reading this book! I had a great laugh reading this book!
The author has produced a wonderful portrait of local Venetians and British and American expatriates using real life characters.
Excellently documented book, well researched. Measured journalistic approach.... Read More
founded in the River Po estuary
by refugees escaping Attila the
Hun in the 5th century. The city is
built on more than 100 islands
forming the archipelago of the
Venetian Lagoon. All transport
within the city of Venice is
either on foot or by water.
Around the 8th century Venice became
a city state, like Genoa and
Pisa; and with its strategic
position at the head of the
Adriatic its naval and
commercial power were almost
In the late 12th century, the
Republic of Venice seized areas
of the mainland surrounding
Venice - its possessions (known
as 'Terrafirma') provided a
buffer against belligerent
neighbors and guaranteed
essential trade routes. It...
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