Masks and riddles, captivating and elusive, this is Venice
The City of Falling Angels (2005) by John Berendt
The historic La Fenice Opera House in Venice burns and around it, one of the most unique cities in the world tries to understand. Will it be rebuilt? Can it be rebuilt? John Berendt takes us inside to explore not only the fire and its aftermath but also the brilliant and idiosyncratic city that serves as the stage for it all. Filled with brilliant and idiosyncratic characters – a master artisan of glass, poets both living and dead, aristocrats who can tell you how many doges of the city are in their family tree, a provocateur painter, Americans with deep roots in Venice facing a terrible choice, others who may have conned an elderly woman out of her literary treasures, the rat man of Treviso and so many more.
Coming eleven years after his record-setting best-seller “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, Berendt takes you inside another unique, historic city. He finds fascinating people involved in lives that most of us can scarcely imagine. Having just read “Nine Lives” by Dan Baum, I was struck by the similarities between Venice and New Orleans. Both are cities defined by water, both with a unique history and culture and filled with people that thrive in such a culture. Each book describes catastrophes of different sorts and the ways those cultures rise to defend themselves. I’ve only seen the movie of Berendt’s first book, but I’m very tempted to see how it fits with the other two. Berendt takes you into the deep waters of Venetian culture and history. Those waters are deep indeed. Venice was once a great power in the world and one of the first international financial centers. Napoleon Bonaparte is still a divisive figure in the city. He ended the time of the Republic of Venice when he conquered it in the late 1700s. By 1866, the city was part of the new, larger, modern Italy. Venice is a character itself in the book. One with more depth than most of us may understand. There is much, much more to the “City of Bridges” than canals, piazzas, and churches. Berendt is a master storyteller who solves as much of the mystery of this brief chapter in the long history of Venice.
I enjoyed this book a great deal. I would love to see Berendt expand his oeuvre beyond them soon.
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