Synopses & Reviews
The author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
returns after more than a decade to give us an intimate look at the "magic, mystery, and decadence" of the city of Venice and its inhabitants.
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 Venice a 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 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, 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.
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 letimotif that runs throughout, adding the the elements of chaos, corruption, and crime and contributiong to the ever-mounting suspense of this brilliant book.
"It's taken Berendt ten years follow up his long-running bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. In lieu of Savannah, he offers us Venice, another port city full of eccentric citizens and with a long, colorful history. Like the first book, this one has a trial at the its center: Berendt moves to Venice in 1997, just three days after the city's famed Fenice opera house burns down during a restoration. The Venetian chattering classes, among whom Berendt finds a home, want to know whether it was an accident or arson. Initially, Berendt investigates, but is soon distracted by the city's charming denizens. Early on, he's warned, 'Everyone in Venice is acting,' which sets the stage for fascinating portraits: a master glassblower creating an homage to the fire in vases, an outspoken surrealist painter, a tenacious prosecutor and others. As the infamous Italian bureaucracy drags out the investigation, Berendt spends more time schmoozing with the expatriate community in long discussions about its role in preserving local art, culture and architecture. By the time the Fenice is rebuilt and reopens, 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. Agent, Suzanne Gluck. (On sale Sept. 27)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Berendt writes so gracefully and with such a sharp eye for the telling, catty detail that you probably won't mind [the lack of a splashy overarching narrative]. (Grade: A-)" Entertainment Weekly
"[T]he story of the Venice 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." Washington Post
"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." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Here again, [Berendt] allows what had once seemed the central fact of his narrative to unfold so gradually...that eventually it is reduced to just one more scene in a vast and sweeping tableau." Chicago Tribune
"[Berendt] uses the personal stories of the wide variety of individuals with whom he became acquainted...not only to enrich but also to personalize his account. This is journalism at its most accomplished; it is creative nonfiction as enveloping and heart embracing as good fiction." Booklist
"Absorbed separately, the stories [Berendt] tells can be fascinating. But his failure to bind them together for a discernible purpose keeps [the book] from being magical." Chicago Sun-Times
"The City of Falling Angels works because this is a book about flesh-and-blood, flawed, larger-than-life human beings...and the flawed, larger-than-life city they are all proud to call their home." Boston Globe
"Isolated, beautiful, decadent, often seen as doomed by the rising waters that surround it, Venice has bewitched writers for centuries. Clearly under its spell, Berendt skillfully shares the city's magic in his splendid new book." USA Today
"Berendt returns with another nonfiction thriller....What emerges is an intimate portrait of a city that has survived floods, government corruption, decay, rising water levels, invasions, and attempts by international organizations to 'save' it all while remaining a bastion of art and a place of unique beauty." Library Journal
"An intriguing tour of mysterious Venice and its most fascinating residents." Kirkus Reviews
The author of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" returns after a decade to offer, in his inimitable style, an intimate look at the "magic, mystery, and decadence" of the city of Venice and its inhabitants.
Twelve years ago, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil exploded into a monumental success, residing a record-breaking four years on the New York Times bestseller list (longer than any work of fiction or nonfiction had before) and turning John Berendt into a household name. The City of Falling Angels is Berendt's first book since Midnight, and it immediately reminds one what all the fuss was about. Turning to the magic, mystery, and decadence of Venice, Berendt gradually reveals the truth behind a sensational fire that in 1996 destroyed the historic Fenice opera house. Encountering a rich cast of characters, Berendt tells a tale full of atmosphere and surprise as the stories build, one after the other, ultimately coming together to portray a world as finely drawn as a still-life painting.
About the Author
John Berendt was born in New York in 1939 and graduated from Harvard University in 1961. While at Harvard, he was on the editorial board of the Harvard Lampoon. From 1961 to 1969, he was an associate editor at Esquire and later wrote for David Frost and Dick Cavett. Berendt served as editor of New York magazine from 1977 to 1979 and wrote a monthly column for Esquire from 1982 to 1994. Berendt's first book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, was published in 1994 to great acclaim and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.