If Jane Austen wrote her own version of "A Prayer for Owen Meany," set it in Naples, and consulted occasionally with the writers of "Shameless," then...moreIf Jane Austen wrote her own version of "A Prayer for Owen Meany," set it in Naples, and consulted occasionally with the writers of "Shameless," then the result might be something like this. Which makes the book sound like some zany mash-up. It isn't.
This is a slow-paced story of two friends in a working class neighborhood in Naples. For most of the book, they're about 14, a liminal, crazy age. I really enjoyed how the author captured their friendship, alternately competitive and interdependent.
Lila is smart, tough, fascinating. She's a self-taught genius. She seems to think two steps ahead of most people. I hope the rest of her story makes it into translation, because I want to know what happens to her.
Naples the city is also a character. There's a great scene when the kids decide to visit Via Chiaia, a wealthier part of town, where they immediately feel out of place. New Years' fireworks, beaches on Ischia, a wedding--all seem to capture that particular city at that particular time.
The pace is sometimes too leisurely, and the tone is not warm and cozy. But I stuck with it because of the girls' friendship, Lila herself, and Naples.
Interesting story, smooth writing. It's much more about cycling than about saving people targeted by the Nazis, although that's likely because after t...moreInteresting story, smooth writing. It's much more about cycling than about saving people targeted by the Nazis, although that's likely because after the war Bartali was so modest about what he did and so careful not to let his celebrity overshadow the courage of all the other people involved in that rescue network. I wanted to hear more about the Goldenbergs (a family who hid in one of Bartali's houses), but I guess the photo of the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren says it all. (less)
A tiny fishing village in Cinque Terre has just one place to stay--the Hotel Adequate View. One day in 1962 a mysterious actress turns up, sent there...moreA tiny fishing village in Cinque Terre has just one place to stay--the Hotel Adequate View. One day in 1962 a mysterious actress turns up, sent there as a break from the filming of "Cleopatra" in Rome. The young hotel owner, Pasquale, falls in love with her, and 50 years later, travels to Hollywood to see her again. The novel alternates between 1962 Porto Vorgogno and current-day Hollywood, with some chapters telling side characters' stories.
At first, I was happiest with the funny, cynical chapters set in Hollywood. Laugh out loud bits about dumb boyfriends, movie pitches, Scientologists, plastic surgery. But the sweet romanticism of Pasquale's village grew on me. I even liked the final chapter that reveals what happened to every character--so tidy, so . . . Hollywood, but the closure was comforting.
The story of partisans fighting in northern Italy during the last two years of World War II. This really is a beautiful tapestry of a book. Lots of ch...moreThe story of partisans fighting in northern Italy during the last two years of World War II. This really is a beautiful tapestry of a book. Lots of characters—the voice doesn’t change, but they each illustrate different stories in this tiny, mountainous place.
Renzo Leoni is the most compelling, the most cinematic, the most unforgettable. He’s a former pilot, trying to drink away his own feelings of guilt. He’s an intelligent, multi-layered hero, and the banter between him and his smart, unconventional mother is wonderful.
Another fascinating dynamic is between an AWOL German doctor and the Italian priest who becomes drawn into the resistance movement. The doctor confesses his sins to the priest, sins so terrible that the priest refuses to absolve him. Later, the doctor is in a position to relieve the priest’s suffering . . . .
Many of the characters are children, or at most teenagers, trying to get through the war on their own.
Almost every little episode in this book is about ordinary people being extraordinarily courageous. Parts of this book have a sort of “Casablanca” feel to them. Maybe that’s just the way of World War II stories, because good guys and bad guys are so clearly delineated. But none of these stories has a Hollywood ending. In fact, some of the saddest parts of the book happened as the Allies broke through, the Germans ran and surrendered, and then reprisals for collaboration began.
One of the best World War II stories I’ve ever read. (less)
I'm a huge fan of the kind of travel book where the author mixes stories of today's neighborhood characters with digestible little history lessons. To...moreI'm a huge fan of the kind of travel book where the author mixes stories of today's neighborhood characters with digestible little history lessons. Tour guide style, but as if the tour guide is a professor at a nearby university. Gossip meets legend. It works especially well with cities like Naples, which is so vibrant and layered and impossible to pin down.
Falling Palace got the balance right at times. The chapter about interpreting dreams to help pick lottery numbers was amusing. There were some interesting local legends in the chapter about subterranean Naples.
And that's as far as I got. Couldn't continue. The relationship with Benedetta didn't work as a frame for me. Descriptions of overloaded vespas, crumbling buildings, housewives in courtyards--a little of this goes a long way, and each chapter does not need its own reminders of these same features.
The writing style became harder to follow, reminding me of Italian analyses of art or music translated into English. I suspect each sentence has at least three brilliant insights, but I can't for the life of me unpack one of them. For the effort, I felt like I wasn't learning anything new about one of my favorite cities in the world.
Hofstadter obviously loves Naples. As he points out, he does indeed have a tendency to meet quirky characters there and get to know them pretty well. I'm impressed by his fluency in his Italian, and I smiled about his late-night sessions in his dark apartment listening to a local psychic on the radio. I'd like it if he tried some short stories set in Naples. (less)