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.
AN EVENING IN VENICE
The air still smelled of charcoal when I arrived in Venice three days after the fire. As it happened, the timing of my visit was purely coincidental. I had made plans, months before, to come to Venice for a few weeks in the off-season in order to enjoy the city without the crush of other tourists.
"If there had been a wind Monday night," the water-taxi driver told me as we came across the lagoon from the airport, "there wouldn't be a Venice to come to."
"How did it happen?" I asked.
The taxi driver shrugged. "How do all these things happen?"
It was early February, in the middle of the peaceful lull that settles over Venice every year between New Year's Day and Carnival. The tourists had gone, and in their absence the Venice they inhabited had all but closed down. Hotel lobbies and souvenir shops stood virtually empty. Gondolas lay tethered to poles and covered in blue tarpaulin. Unbought copies of the International Herald Tribune ...
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).
Full Review (768 words).
History of Venice
Venice was 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 invulnerable.
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