Reading guide for 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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Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. Count Marcello says to Berendt, "What is true? What is not true? The answer is not so simple, because the truth can change. I can change. You can change. That is the Venice effect" (p. 2). How do you see the "Venice effect" at work in this book?
  2. Discuss the symbolism of Ludovico De Luigi's painting of the Fenice on fire, placed incorrectly (but on purpose) in the middle of the Venetian Lagoon
  3. Berendt writes, "Venetians seemed to be asking themselves the very questions that I, too, had been wondering about—namely, what it meant to live in so rarefied and unnatural a setting" (p. 42). What answers, if any, do you think the author and his subjects come to in the pages of The City of Falling Angels?
  4. Rose Lauritzen calls Venice a "village with an edge." In your opinion, what about Venice makes it like a village, and what gives it an "edge"?
  5. Mario Moro collects and parades around in uniforms of all types—he has everything from firefighter to naval captain. A local tells Berendt that Mario is just like the Venetian families living in grand palaces and obsessed with nobility, or artists who dream of being the next great Maestro. Identify some of the people in this book who exhibit this type of fantasy and self-delusion. Do you think it is a benign or harmful trait?
  6. The families that Berendt encounters in Venice are often fighting vicious internal wars, or recovering from battles past. What are some of the family dramas he relays in The City of Falling Angels? Be sure to present both sides of the story!
  7. Like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnival is an annual celebration that has, in a sense, defined Venice for generations of locals and millions of tourists. Discuss the meaning and execution of Carnival and how it has changed over the centuries. What is the difference between the way the Venetians and the tourists celebrate Carnival?
  8. Guerrino Lovato explains on page 101 that "Apollonian restraint and Dionysian abandon" are very important to Italian theater, and also to Venice itself. After reading his explanation about the two ancient cults, describe how this dichotomy is still at work in Venice today with regard to politics, social customs, relationships, architecture, and art.
  9. 9. Much of The City of Falling Angels is devoted to people intricately bound to or exceptionally wrapped up in the past. Discuss the significance of Patricia Curtis's portrait by Charles Merrill Mount and her habit of dressing all in white, as well as Daniel Curtis's collection of architectural fragments.
  10. 10. Several of the "central" figures in this book—the Lauritzens, the Curtis family, Olga Rudge, the Rylands—are not native Venetians. How do you view these people in light of Mario Stefani's opinion that "anyone who loves Venice is a true Venetian" (p. 331)? Do you think any of them are "true Venetians"? Why or why not?
  11. With his repeated mentions of both Wings of the Dove and The Aspern Papers, Berendt returns throughout The City of Falling Angels to a theme of "the feigning of love as a means to gain something of value" (p. 184). Identify the various situations in the book that illustrate this theme.
  12. After seeing a seagull tear out and eat the heart of a pigeon, Ludovico De Luigi tells Berendt, "An allegory: the strong versus the weak. It's always the same. The powerful always win, and the weak always come back to be victims all over again" (p. 233). In what ways does this allegory reflect the events of The City of Falling Angels? Do you think De Luigi's observation is true?
  13. What is it that finally makes Count Volpi participate in Venetian society, if only for one night at the Save Venice ball?
  14. Tourism in Savannah, Georgia, skyrocketed after the publication of Berendt's last book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Does reading The City of Falling Angels make you want to visit Venice? What specific aspect of the city most intrigues or repels you? If you have read both books, compare and contrast them.


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Mariner Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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Beyond the Book:
  A Short History of Venice

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