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.
It's taken Berendt 10 years follow up his long-running bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. In lieu of Savannah, he offers us Venice, another port city full of eccentric citizens and with a long, colorful history. Like the first book, this one has a trial at the its center: Berendt moves to Venice in 1997, just three days after the city's famed Fenice opera house burns down during a restoration. The Venetian chattering classes, among whom Berendt finds a home, want to know whether it was an accident or arson. Initially, Berendt investigates, but is soon distracted by the city's charming denizens. Early on, he's warned, "Everyone in Venice is acting," which sets the stage for fascinating portraits: a master glassblower creating an homage to the fire in vases, an outspoken surrealist painter, a tenacious prosecutor and others. As the infamous Italian bureaucracy drags out the investigation, Berendt spends more time schmoozing with the expatriate community in long discussions about its role in preserving local art, culture and architecture. By the time the Fenice is rebuilt and reopens, Berendt has delivered an intriguing mosaic of modern life in Venice, which makes for first-rate travel writing, albeit one that lacks a compelling core story to keep one reading into the night.