Armed with the verve and stylistic brevity of a columnist and the seasoned perspective of an editor, John Berendt wrote the modern classic Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story over the course of seven years, without a publisher’s advance. “People thought I was crazy, but I didn’t want to meet a deadline or owe money,” he says.
In the eight years he spent visiting and finally living in Savannah during the 1980s, Berendt gathered enough stories, atmosphere, architecture, local folklore and trust from the edgy Georgian town to create a highly successful fusion of true crime and travelogue. The tale was so compelling that it substantially improved three separate economies: his own, his publisher’s, and the city of Savannah’s. Published in 1994, Midnight was on The New York Times Bestseller List for four years, was a 1995 Pulitzer Prize finalist, has had over 100 printings and has doubled the tourism trade in Savannah. In 1997, Midnight was made into a movie, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack.
“Forceful, clear, gripping, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is the best nonfiction novel since In Cold Blood and a lot more entertaining, since Berendt’s book has everything going for it—snobbism, ruthless power, voodoo, local color, and a totally evil aestheticism. I read it till dawn.”
After the record-breaking success of Midnight, people might call Berendt crazy if he changed his research methods. So Berendt employed the same patient approach to write his next book, The City of Falling Angels, in which he plumbed the decadent intrigues of the beautiful and indomitable city of Venice. [A] “mix of rich gossip and Gothic calamity,” Falling Angels investigates the mysterious fire that destroyed the city’s famed opera house—the Gran Teatro La Fenice—three days prior to Berendt’s arrival in 1996. Was it an accident, or was it arson?
“…the story of the Fenice fire and its aftermath is exceptionally interesting, the cast of characters is suitably various and flamboyant, and Berendt’s prose, now as then, is precise, evocative and witty.”
—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
Berendt manages to insinuate himself into Venice’s famously exclusive social circles and reveals a city much older, more beautiful and more decadent than even Savannah. “Berendt’s Venice is Savannah with gondolas, a world-class center of civic shenanigans, full of hidden agendas and local rivalries, where any ordinary conversation might be a web of stratagems,” wrote Richard Lacayo in Time. “As in Midnight, Berendt is not just an urbane guide to a city’s secrets. He’s also a state-of-the-art weirdo magnet.”
Peopled by eccentric and enthralling characters—“bizarre patricians and clever parasites, real artists and con artists’’—the Venetians in Falling Angels take nothing at face value. “What is true? What is not true?” asks Count Girolamo Marcello, a nobleman who lives in a 600-year-old palace. “The answer is not so simple, because the truth can change…that is the Venice effect.”
In his lectures, Berendt discusses the process of writing The City of Falling Angels and compares the experience of the two books. The vast distance between Midnight and Falling Angels provides endless cultural, literary, and historical intrigues, all of which Berendt puts into service with vivid, witty storytelling.
John Berendt grew up in Syracuse, New York. He majored in English literature at Harvard University, where he worked on the staff of The Harvard Lampoon. Berendt has written for David Frost and Dick Cavett, was editor of New York Magazine from 1977 to 1979 and wrote a monthly column for Esquire from 1982 to 1994. A frequent contributor to magazines, Berendt has also written introductions to several books, including the 2001 Modern Library edition of The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes and the 2004 edition of Truman Capote’s novel Other Voices, Other Rooms.