August 23, 2006

'But his Venice is not our city'

His first book—Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994), turned into a Hollywood movie (1997) starring John Cusack, Kevin Spacey and Jude Law—had a remarkable four-year run on The New York Times bestseller list. It also made the Author a celebrity in the southern US city of Savannah, where the book was set. Why? Well, perhaps because, as a Savannahian once declared, "Once upon a time John Berendt came to town, and Savannah hasn't been the same since."

Yet, Venice, the setting for John Berendt’s new book, The City of Falling Angels, is vastly different from Savannah, Georgia, even though the Author—who spent much of the last decade in the “Serenissima”—has been trying to do in Venice what he did in Savannah with his first book: offer up local secrets and scandals for public perusal. That is why, perhaps, the translated Italian version hasn't exactly been jumping off the shelves, as Elisabetta Povoledo pointed out in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune. As for the gossip, well, it must be said that

[b]y their own admission, Venetians take pleasure in gossip. In fact, talking about your neighbors is such an art here that there's even a term in the local dialect - "tajar tabari" - for the practice of cutting someone up behind his or her back.

But it's one thing for locals to tell tales among themselves, quite another when a stranger blusters in and does it. That is why some people here haven't taken too kindly to John Berendt's "City of Falling Angels," […]

As a result, for instance, asked to comment on the book, the mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari—who is also a philosopher and one of the most prominent Italian intellectuals— answered this way: "It's not my habit to comment on books that don't interest me or, for various reasons, I don't like." Or, to make another example,

"His Venice is not our city," said Cristiano Chiarot, the director of marketing and communications for La Fenice Opera, which figures prominently in the book. Venice, he added, has many facets. "Berendt captured some of them but not its soul."

As a matter of fact, as IHT reported,

The author makes no bones about his American's-eye-view of the city. "Obviously I wrote with a foreigner's eye," he said in a telephone interview from his home in New York. "You can object to it, but it hardly sounds like a legitimate complaint. Foreigners have been writing about Venice forever."
But, as Elisabetta Povoledo sharply pointed out,

[o]ne thing that distinguishes Berendt from his predecessors is that he chose to write about Venetians.

There is actually a small difference …

[This post was first published at on May 27, 2004]

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