Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Well...it looks like I'm a few days late for the Non-Fiction 5 challenge end, but I finally, finally finished The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt (pgs. 432, Penguin).
In 1996, a fire started in the Fenice Opera House in Venice, Italy. And not just any fire. A fire that would consume not only most of the beautiful building, along with it paintings, frescoes and history in this last of it's kind building. No, this fire consumed almost a decade in the life of Venice. How did the fire start? Was it arson? Was it negligence? Who had the most to gain? Was it the Mafia or was it the contractors that were working on the remodeling? These are just some of the questions that drew John Berendt to extend his stay in Venice and try to capture the city and it's people in print.
In the course of the investigation, Berendt introduces us to many of the citizens of this city. We meet Archimede Seguso, a renowned glass maker, that watched the Fenice burn and then created over one hundred glass vases to memorialize it. Of course, most of these pieces still haven't been seen by the public because they are tied up in a litigation of a weird brotherly feud. We meet the Rylands - Jane, an American Expat and her British husband that waylaid a poor old lady and took her incredible achieves for their own profit. The woman was Olga Rudge, the famous Mistress of writer Ezra Pound, who's writings and letters were worth a small fortune. And we meet members of the Save Venice foundation, a non-profit organization that was created to help restore buildings and art in the city of Venice. But an implosion of the group was caused by mixing too many people with large egos wanting the Title and prestige involved with this organization.
I will readily admit I had high hopes for this book. I thought Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil about the city of Savannah, Georgia was fantastic! He did such a wonderful job describing the beauty of the city, as well as the eccentricity of it's people. Not so much with Venice, although he certainly tried. Maybe it's the fact that I just don't understand the Venetian culture the way I do culture in the US. Or maybe this book was more about the glitterati instead of just the average folks. Either way, it fell short for me. I really didn't get a chance to CARE about the people in this book. There were too many exceedingly shallow people that cared more for their titles and their parties than they did about anything else. The back story of the Fenice fire just seemed to get lost in it all. And since reality is never as cut-and-dried as fiction, we still don't know what really happened that night at the Fenice.
I did enjoy learning more about Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge. And I was intrigued about the side story of the poet Mario Stefani, a man that took his own life during this time period. But reading about the Save Venice Organization and their constant bickering over whose name would be at the top of the stationery and who got the best seats for a gala rather turned my stomach. As did the story of the Rylands and how they swindled a poor elderly woman AND her family out of their birthright. Maybe my expectations were just too high for this one. Venice is a beautiful city, one I'd love to visit some day. But this book didn't do much for me! Like a Seinfeld episode, it was a whole lot about nothing. 3/5