Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Book Review: My Venice and Other Essays

by David Blake, Fiction Department, Central Library

My Venice and Other Essays
Donna Leon

Fans of Donna Leon are accustomed to walking the calli (streets) of Venice with Commissario Guido Brunetti, the star of Donna Leon’s popular detective novels, set in Venice, of course. It’s interesting, by the way, that Leon does not allow her books to be translated into Italian. She doesn’t want her neighbors to read them. Leon has been a resident of Venice for decades, and this book begins with a series of essays about her life there. Her tongue, and her sense of humor, are far sharper than her fictional character, Brunetti’s.

This is an eclectic collection. Italian men and their mothers, war crimes, and noisy neighbors are all subjects for her humor. Leon’s stories about Venetian dog poop and garbage are table slappers. Leon is an opera lover and her exploits to hear Maria Callas sing are harrowing. Like Brunetti, Leon is good company, but, unlike him, she isn’t mellow. Her stories about her pre-Venice job, teaching in Saudi Arabia and the treatment of women there, are bursting with anger.

Leon’s writing about Venice differs from most accounts in that she has lived there a long time. She knows how everything that happens in the city is known by its residents through webs of pedestrians running into one another and gossiping. My Venice gives us a glimpse into the hidden interior life of a mysterious city, and of Leon as well.

For those who have not yet read Leon’s novels (the Brunetti series), there are plenty of options to engage you. She has just released number 27 in that series, The Temptation of Forgiveness. Other popular options include Death at La Fenice and Acqua Alta. The series order of these titles are not so important. Both Leon’s nonfiction and her fiction will satisfy the general reader and those who enjoy travel, be it on-site or from an armchair. There is plenty to enjoy here.

Check it out.

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