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Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere Hardcover – 1 Sep 2001
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Located on a narrow, mountainous finger of Italy hard by Croatia and Slovenia, the port city of Trieste is little-visited and seldom in the news. As Jan Morris, who first came to Trieste as the English soldier James Morris in 1945, writes, "It offers no unforgettable landmark, no universally familiar melody, no unmistakable cuisine, hardly a single native name that anyone knows." Yet, as historian and travel writer Morris ably demonstrates in this homage to one of her favourite cities (others about which she has written are Hong Kong, Sydney, New York, and Venice ), Trieste has many charms. Its history is foremost among them, thanks to the city's former role as the sole port of the otherwise-landlocked Austro-Hungarian empire, which housed a small fleet there--a fleet which, from time to time, would sail off to make war against the Ottomans or the Italians. At the beginning of the 20th century, Trieste had grown to international importance as an entry point into Central Europe, so much so that it was referred to as "the third entrance of the Suez Canal". Trieste briefly took centre stage at the onset of the Cold War, when Marshall Tito claimed it for Yugoslavia; it narrowly avoided being enveloped by the Iron Curtain. Morris tells all these stories and more, bringing the city's past to life; no one should be surprised if Trieste sees more visitors thanks to her spirited study.
Yet Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere is also a work tinged with melancholy. That befits the city's faded glory, but it also has to do with the sad fact that this will be Morris's last book--or so she promises. Let's hope she changes her mind. If not, however, this serves very well as the capstone of a distinguished career. --Gregory McNamee
".. If it proves to be her swansong then this is a fittingly passionate end to a distinguished literary life." -- Observer
"..one of the most impressive and subtle meditations on old age that I have read, much more than mere smudges of grafitti on a wall." -- Daily Telegraph
"This is an exquisitely well-crafted book... Morris has erudition and a waywardly original sensibility, and she writes not just sentences, not just paragraphs, but whole chapters consummately graceful both in sound and sense.." -- Sunday Times
As subtle a piece of autobiographical writing as I have read. -- Evening Standard, September 24, 2001
It is gorgeously written Dreamy, glancing, allusive, it is a thoroughly captivating elegy for herself, himself, Trieste and the modern world. -- New Statesman, October, 2001
Jan Morris has no rival as a decoder of all that is idiosyncratic and defnitive in the peculiar identity of places throughout the world. -- Literary Review, October, 2001
Morris' little book is as exuberant as it is bittersweet, as resigned as it is wistful. -- Publishers Weekly
She ends her distinguished career with another triumph... a unique and highly personal meditation on Trieste as a city that haunts the memory. -- Waterstones Books Quarterly, September 2001
To call Jan Morris's Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere a travel book would be as reductive and wrong as calling Hamlet a soap opera. -- Irish Times, October, 2001
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And while Morris ably rambles through the city's history (which she first visited in 1946), the book is a bit of a metaphor for human aging and memory. She has vowed this is her final book in a prolific career, and the melancholy tone echoes the melancholy of a city whose glory days lie a century in the past. She writes, "Trieste makes one ask sad questions of oneself. What am I here for? Where am I going?" That's not to say the book is depressing or sad, because her love for the city is evident throughout, as she grapples with its place in her own psyche. While she clearly enjoys recreating in her mind's eye the hustle and bustle of the imperial era, she also finds, "For me, Trieste is an allegory of limbo, in the secular sense of an indefinable hiatus." So while the narrative is studded snippets of history, amusing and telling anecdotes from her own visits, and evocations of past residents such as Richard Burton and James Joyce, it's also rich in introspection. Above all, Morris' meandering prose is beautiful and has inspired me to delve into her past work. I do wish the publishers had included a few historical maps, some photos, and a bibliography of other works on Trieste.
A wistful book written beautifully, read easily, by a man-woman now drowning in time, looking for kindness, finding a place that she describes is the closest to humanist, or perhaps as farthest from petty ideas of race, religion, gender as you might get. If I did believe in ghosts, which I don't, I would see them in every page of this brief jewel. In describing Trieste Jan Morris describes herself and her yearning.
I find this hard to believe, so I need to visit Trieste.
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