BookBrowse Reviews The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

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The City of Falling Angels

by John Berendt

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt X
The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2006, 320 pages

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A tale full of atmosphere and surprise by the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: Nonfiction Travel

From the book jacket: Venice, a city steeped in a thousand years of history, art and architecture, teeters in precarious balance between endurance and decay. Its architectural treasures crumble—foundations shift, marble ornaments fall—even 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 (pronounced fay-nee-CHAY), 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 detective—inquiring into the nature of life in this remarkable museum-city—while gradually revealing the truth about the fire.

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.

Comment: 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: The Washington Post concludes that it's "precise, evocative and witty", Library Journal sums up with one word: "Essential", and Kirkus Reviews gives it a starred review, saying he does "great justice to an exalted city", while also commenting that he makes the occasional wrong turn (such as lingering far too long over the apparent suicide of a local gay artist, for example).

The final word goes to Booklist who sum up their review saying, "This is journalism at its most accomplished; it is creative nonfiction as enveloping and heart embracing as good fiction".

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in November 2005, and has been updated for the November 2006 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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