10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars City of Fallen Angels
A book written possibly from an American point of view emphasising the various and ongoing fascination and connections that Americans continue to have with La Serinissima. Nevertheless John Berendt gets under the skin of Venice and its people to such a degree that you feel that if you passed them in the Calle you would immediately recognise them from Archimede Seguso to...
Published on 3 Mar 2006 by Mike Blacklock
3.0 out of 5 stars travelogue-style visit to Venice
As a fan of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" I probably am in the same class as most readers of both books in being disappointed by this second one. It has many similarities to the first: both are first person accounts of several years spent as the "outsider" observing the strange customs of an unknown foreign tribe, like an an early explorer in the wilds of...
Published on 11 Dec 2008 by gilly8
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars City of Fallen Angels,
This review is from: City of Falling Angels (Random House Large Print Nonfiction) (Hardcover)
A book written possibly from an American point of view emphasising the various and ongoing fascination and connections that Americans continue to have with La Serinissima. Nevertheless John Berendt gets under the skin of Venice and its people to such a degree that you feel that if you passed them in the Calle you would immediately recognise them from Archimede Seguso to the man of a hundred identities and uniforms to match.
Whilst your typical Venetian gets quite emotional quite easily on subjects ranging from pigeons in the city to the increasing maritime traffic through the Lagoon, the author does not let it cloud his view of the situation.For example he provides an insight into the fire at la Fenice from a very different slant, including a view from a near neighbours window of the ongoing tragedy, but one I think that captures the effect of this catastrophe on the city and its inhabitants with a closeness that I have not seen in other accounts of the fire.
If you are travelling to Venice do read this book as it will, I believe, make you appreciate the city and its inhabitants with a different view, but one which I believe will get you much closer to what living in Venice is all about. A very good read, however you get the feeling that Mr. Berendt hasn't finished yet with Venice despite everything still captured by the magic of this city?
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book - and so different from what you think,
Amazing - this book is not at all what one may think one's getting! Maybe one expects a gentle wander through Venice, with the odd anecdote, and of course plenty of historical knowledge served up in an oh so casual manner. In short, like a little book of journalistic appreciation of a beautiful place. One or two readers may even expect it to be an insider's guide to Venice- to which they can then point and say "Oh really, he doesn't understand Venice at all". But read the book, and you'll be flabbergasted! Much like the town he is writing about, Berendt confuses you, sets wrong trails, surprises you and eventually makes you realize you've gone in a huge circle to where you've started out from, only with so much more knowledge and experience. His account of the fate of the Ezra Pound papers for example, is one of the most astounding "real crime" accounts I've read - and of course Berendt manages to spin a web which craftily links it up to Henry James' "Aspern Papers". This is a simply amazing book which leave one gasping at his cunning and elegant way of exploring the dark side of the mysterious town called Venice.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not really Venetians,
This review is from: The City of Falling Angels (Hardcover)
John Berendt's book is a fascinating read for anyone who wants to read about the odd characters from outside the city who have populated it over the last decades. He enjoys showing up hypocrisy, whether it is in connection with the estate of the poet Ezra Pound or those responsible for the fire at the Fenice opera house with which the book opens. Ordinary Venetians scarcely get a word in edgeways. If you have been to Venice and wondered about the forces which have kept it going over the last few years, this is the book for you.
3.0 out of 5 stars travelogue-style visit to Venice,
As a fan of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" I probably am in the same class as most readers of both books in being disappointed by this second one. It has many similarities to the first: both are first person accounts of several years spent as the "outsider" observing the strange customs of an unknown foreign tribe, like an an early explorer in the wilds of who-knows-where. He brought that sense of awe and naivete more believably to us in "Midnight" where the people of Savannah, his fellow Americans, did come across as truly an unusual group with customs and ways new and different from the rest of us. Somehow, though Venice is an actual "foreign" city for most of us, it doesn't seem so strange; the author doesn't bring to the table the same sense of excitement, of being in a really new environment. And it shouldn't have been that way! There are certainly a large cast of characters; a possible murder that sort of fizzles out; the fire which destroys the old Fenece Opera house, a tragedy for Venetians and Opera lovers; but somehow I never FELT the loss myself...The only one of his little vignettes of which the book is made that I became emotionally involved in was the story of Ezra Pound, and his long-time partner Olga Rudge, their daughter and her family, and the attempts by a nefarious American woman to fleece Olga, then in her 90's, of not just money but more importantly the rights to the papers, and the memorabilia over 50+ years that she had from the late Pound. It is a sad story that if it took place here and now in the States now would fall under elder abuse laws, but there and then seemed to have been brushed off by the authorities, and even Ms Rudges' adult daughter and grandson seemed not to be overly concerned though they themselves took a financial loss. Berendt was perhaps prevented from pursuing further into this, but is was by far the most interesting and heart-tugging episode: Olga in her late 90's going by foot to the bank to get some of her papers from Pound and being told no, she couldn't have them, they now belonged to the "Ezra Pound Foundation" that is, the dummy foundation headed by the American woman and her attorney, and to whom Ms Olga Rudge had unwittingly signed over her control of everything she owned, even her house. That story just stops too. All the side stories seem to just end, with no real feeling of completeness. I know its non-fiction, and things don't neatly wrap themselves up, but in some of the cases, thing ends with a sort of flat thud. I also never got a clear visual of Venice, which is odd too; one would think the gondoliers, the palaces and St Marks Square would all be brought to life...It should have been but it was never clearly painted for me, I think it was assumed I knew it from photographs, but that should not be assumed by an author. Nor were the people he discussed well "painted " verbally. Overall-- though I stayed with it-- a disappointment.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another beauty from Berendt,
"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" was such a worthy contribution to the non-fiction genre presided over by Capote's "In Cold Blood" that I cannot now explain why I was so luke-warm about the news of Berendt's latest work.
I think I was put off because I thought "The City of Falling Angels" would be something of an art history of Venice. I was also wary about the fact it had been ten years' in production. The same is true of "Something Happened", Joseph Heller's second novel. And, in Heller's case, the fact that the book had been assembled so painstakingly letter-by-letter over such a long period really showed to the detriment of the prose.
I accept that, with such a low level of expectation, I was hardly likely to be disappointed, but I quickly realised that the book was just brilliant, evoking not only memories of "Midnight" but, more interestingly, the realisation that the Berendt style is unique amongst the many hundreds of different books read in the ten years between the two, being part travelogue, part social history, part biography and part non-fiction crime.
Berendt is capable of unearthing the scent of intrigue from the most innocuous of encounters. His unique talent thereafter is to follow that scent to a conclusion whether that be by way of his personal charm (very few seem to decline his requests for interview) or his considerable forensic powers of analysis. And, thanks to his narrative gifts, he is able to generate real suspense in the leads he has running.
In whatever context he meets the various characters of Venice he avoids any commentary letting the words (quoted faithfully) and actions of each speak for themselves and yet by his presentation of the evidence of such encounters he is able get his point across with subtlety.
And he meets famous characters from the past too: Ezra Pound spent a great deal of his own life in Venice. Berendt explores his connections with the city and comments on his literary legacy. He unearths a letter from Pound to his (then-teenage) daughter, Mary de Rachewiltz and, as it contains his advice on creative writing, sets it out in full (p196). Of course, Brendt's own prose measures up and it serves as yet another proof that the reader is in the hands of a real professional.
I accept there is some art history of Venice in there, but it is well-presented and I have to accept that it even enhanced his tales.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Views of an ex-pat,
If you loved 'Midnight in the Garden of Eden' and were seduced by Berendt's treatment of Savannah, prepare to be a little disappointed. Whilst he has undoubtedly spoken to many Venetians and American ex-pats, at no point does he convince that he has been accepted by Venice as one of her own, or that he has managed to unearth anything even lightly hidden.
His evocations of the city are wonderful, or course, but he doesn't really get beyond second-hand depictions of Venice itself. He may have won a 'sconto' in one of the restaurants, but most of the natives in the book seem to be periphal characters he speaks to once, or twice at most. An American book, by an American.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Social climbing in Venice,
Author John Berendt hunts down some of the biggest social climbers on the lagoon. Arriving in Venice just as the Fenice opera house goes up in flames, Berendt creeps around the fringes of the event asking if it was the electricians or the Mafia that caused the historic old building to go up like so much tinder in February 1996.
Each year more and more Venetians move away from the island to make a home to find work away from the hordes of tourist that flush through the city's alleyways and squares in much the same way the waters of the lagoon sluice through the waterways. But Berendt does not want to speak about the struggles of the gondolier or the shopkeeper facing ever increasing rents as Disney and McDonalds flex their muscles. He has more highly gilded fish to fry.
He aims to dish the dirt on some big names and has a go at some dubious behaviour involving the missing papers of former Venice resident Ezra Pound trying to strike a resonnant chord with Henry Jame's 'Aspern Papers' as he does so. But his really big guns are aimed at a wealthy plastic surgeon and the heir to a US grocery chain called Piggly-Wiggly. Yes it really is called Piggly-Wiggly.
These two luminaries battle to head the embossed letter heading of Save Venice, another US organisation consisting of wealthy people who want to be seen in Venice as they save it. Or at least seen in the right places in Venice where they can talk about their generosity with other like minded souls.
For the Venice lover there are some names and places that will be recognised and some rather unastounding revelations about the bureaucratic tentacles that engulf Venice as much as they do the rest of Italy. The City of Falling Angels is an easy, light and ultimately unfulfilling read adding nothing to one's understanding of this most beautiful of all anachronisms. And certainly contains nothing that would make any Venetian choke over their morning coffee in Florian's.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No real insight,
Described as a book centred on an investigation in to the disastrous fire at La Fenice (Venice's totemic opera house), it certainly looked that way from the first chapter. I was hooked after initial browsing.
Unfortunately, it didn't carry on that way. Yes it is a recurring subject, but the rest is dominated by Berendt's meetings with other characters to create a travelogue. Sadly, almost all these characters appeared to be a wide range of expatriates living in Venice. Meetings with genuine Venetians (even Italians) seemed thin on the ground, and after a while I got rather tired of the whingeing, mutual backstabbing of various socialites who seem to occupy a world totally unrelated to the rest of us. I hope it's also unrelated to most Venetians. As for the investigation? Well, it got lost rather. Instead we were treated (for instance) to an extended diversion on the 'scandal' surrounding the papers of Ezra Pound (true Venetian this one!). It did return eventually, but by that time the continuity was lost.
All in all, thoroughly disappointing, even if reasonably well written. There are far better books on Venice (Jan Morris and John Julius Norwich for two). Even if their focus is somewhat different, at least they have something worthwhile to write about.
4.0 out of 5 stars The Ccity of Falling Angels,
I loved the book: Midnight in the garden of evil and this is just as good. Very engaging and entertaining. A great read.
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book of Venice,
Wonderful book... Such a fantastic subject... At first I thought it was fiction, the story was so amazing, but it is a true story .
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The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt (Hardcover - 26 Sep 2005)
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