A Journalist's Archive

The City of Falling Angels
John Berendt
Reviewed by Kathy Hare

Sometimes the emperor is naked, no matter how many book reviewers say otherwise.  John Berendt, author of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," has certainly proven he knows how to write.  So when Charlie Gibson, Good Morning America host, interviewed the famous author about his latest book, "The City of Fallen Angels," I believed the accolades and ran out and purchased the non-fiction account of modern day Venice.

Berendt began his research for the book three days after the Fenice, Venice's opera house, burnt down.  The ash and smell of smoke still in the air must have overwhelmed Berendt's senses, causing him to center his story around the investigation of the fire. While the book begins with a good description of the decaying city and a few interesting characters, it becomes mired down in gossip as Berendt attempts to weave the fire investigation into his story.

There is 86 year old Archomede Seguso, who lives next door to the Fenice. His family has been in the glass making business since the 14th Century, and events surrounding the fire give him the inspiration to create a whole new line of vases.  Another character, Signor Donadon, is a millionaire because he has discovered the secret to making a good rat poison.  "Rats eat what people eat," Donadon declares.  So he adds schnitzel to German rat poison, butter to French, and pasta for the Italian rats. And then there is Mario Moro, a man who takes on the identity of the uniform he puts on in the morning whether it's policeman, electrician, soldier or fireman.

Unfortunately, Berendt leaves his Venetian characters behind, entangling the reader in long-winded accounts about American ex-patriots who inhabit the city. I made the mistake of recommending the book to the Falcon Book Club before I reached that point in the story. The only reason club members didn't pummel me to death with their $25.95 hardback copies was because they had been lulled into a zombie-like trance while attempting to finish the book; a goal none of them could accomplish.

Berendt bores the reader with tales of the "Save Venice" foundation, a New York City based organization.  We learn how Ezra Pound's lifetime companion Olga Rudge is duped out of Pound's writings by Jane Rylands.  And there is a protracted battle between Lawrence Lovett and Phillip Rylands, director of the Peggy Guggenheim collection, over who is going to control the foundation.

I equated the shift in the story-line to touring a country on your own, and waking up one morning to find yourself on one of those boring American tours, seeing a country only with other Americans, and never speaking to the native population. A book club member put it this way, "It was only gossip, and I find Venice gossip to be no more exciting than Falcon gossip."

While I usually don't reveal the secrets of a book, I will do so this time to save you the trouble of reading it.  The title comes from a sign on a 500 year old church which states "Beware of Falling Angels," because the decaying church facade is literally falling off, hitting unaware tourists on the head.  And two careless electricians burnt down the Fenice.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
Article Copyright © 2006 Bluestack Consulting, Inc.
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