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Taking the fire that destroyed the Fenice theatre in 1996 as his starting point, John Berendt creates a unique and unforgettable portrait of Venice and its extraordinary inhabitants. Beneath the exquisite facade of the world’s most beautiful historic city, scandal, corruption and venality are rampant, and John Berendt is a master at seeking them out. Ezra Pound and his mistress, Olga; poet Mario Stefani; the Rat Man of Treviso; or Mario Moro — self-styled carabiniere, fireman, soldier or airman, depending on the day of the week. With his background in journalism, Berendt is perfectly poised to gain access to private and unapproachable people, and persuade them to talk frankly to him. The result is mischievous, witty, compelling – and destined to be the non-fiction succes d’estime of the year.
I went in with no idea what this book was about. When I bought I had read the back really quick and say that it was about Venice. I love anything set in romantic places so I just bought on a whim (and because it was only 40 eurocents!). I expected to get a novel about the romanticism of Venice but it turned out that this is a non-fiction book. It really took me a good 50 pages to realize that though.. Once I realized that this was not fiction it changed the experience and the book made a lot more sense.
First, I do not consider this book to be about the fire in the Fenice in 1996. Yes, two chapters in this book are about that fire but it is not a look into the case surrounding the fire. Instead, this is more of a book of seperate essays, each focusing on another story that John Berendt pursued while he lived in Venice. It is therefore really easy to read this book, each chapter represents a nice and finished storyline. While reading I had some doubts about the authenticity of the people but I did some fact checking after finishing the book and it seems that he really did his research well.
I liked that John Berendt did not give a personal opinion on any of the situation’s and actively tried to give two sides of each story. It is very easy to let yourself get drifted away when writing about a subject and (un)intentionally bias your writing. Becaue John Berendt did not do this it became more interesting to read because it is now up to the reader to decide with whom to agree.
I was, however, not blown away by this. Far from it. It was not a pain to read but this book is not something you need to have read. In short: it was ok. Some chapters were more amusing than others but overall this book is not something special. The only reason I give it 3 stars is because it does really show the peculiarities of Venice and how wonderful it would be to live there.