There are a lot of interesting tidbits here. Berenson, a prominent art historian of the Italian Renaissance, was born in a Lithuania shtetl in the yeaThere are a lot of interesting tidbits here. Berenson, a prominent art historian of the Italian Renaissance, was born in a Lithuania shtetl in the year that the American Civil War ended, and was active mentally until the end of his life. This collection of diary entries covers the years from 1947 to 1958, when he was between 81 and 92 years old. His mind was active and sensitive and curious through the entire period of this book: we should all be so lucky! And Berenson is also an effective teller of the indignities and annoyances of aging as well: the weakness, the forgetfulness, the loss of faculties. Getting old sucks - even for Bernard Berenson, living at a fabulous Tuscan villa surrounded by timeless art, waited on by faithful servants and in the company of a patient, devoted, and cherished life-partner.
This book was published only five years after "BB"s death, and I suspect that there were a lot of passages that were too indiscreet to be published at the time. Which is a shame. It's also a shame there is so much repetition in the published diary entries. The book would be twice as good if it were half as long. When Berenson has something interesting to say, he's very interesting: he served as a fascinating link between worlds of literature, art, and scholarship from the late 1880s to the late 1950s. Oscar Wilde was a friend of his; Berenson was taught at Harvard by Henry Adams; he became the art adviser for Joseph Duveen; he was Bertrand Russell's brother-in-law. In the 1950s, all sorts of people who were passing through Italy stopped to see him and pay him homage: the range of contacts goes from Harry Truman to Ray Bradbury to Henri Matisse to the former Queen of Romania....more
Unfortunately, the platitudes outnumber the brilliant passages. This is really a series of short stories, set in occupied Naples in sumWildly uneven.
Unfortunately, the platitudes outnumber the brilliant passages. This is really a series of short stories, set in occupied Naples in summer 1944, inter-woven with a series of first person narratives about Burns' own experiences in North Africa and Italy during the war. These "promenade" sections particularly tedious to me. Throughout, Burns often strains to be profound, making broad generalizations about Americans and Italians that seem more suitable perhaps for a sociology textbook. Mr. Author, please show, don't tell us!
Among the short stories, "Momma," set in a Neapolitan "gay bar" frequented by American servicemen, is quite good. I also liked "Queen Penicillin," which relates the experience of a GI undergoing treatment for syphllis. Perhaps they could be anthologized, because they could really stand on their own....more