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Falling Palace: A Romance of Naples
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Don Hofstadter, author of the thoroughly enjoyable "The Love Affair As A Work Of Art," is totally smitten with Naples, "that beautiful and wounded city." He loves the winding streets with their perilous staircases, he loves bassi (very small street level flats), he loves the people, most of all Benedetta, and he shares this deep affection with us in energetic, elegant prose. "Falling Palace" is a memoir, yes, it's also a paean to the city that for generations has withstood occupation, war, and the whims of Vesuvius.

For Hofstadter, Naples is "a place best or perhaps only grasped through myth and memory and half-remembered dream." He had many a dream during his sojourn there, dreams he tried to decipher, discover their hidden meanings. Perhaps those were attempts to find his place in Naples and in the life of Benedetta. She is an enigma, a beautiful mysterious woman often given to superstition, frequently argumentative, yet she holds him in thrall.

Unlike many short term residents of a foreign city, Hofstadter takes great pains to learn not only the language but the idioms and hand gestures. He notes that tapping the nose with a finger means something smells fishy or pulling down an eyelid indicates that one should keep one's eyes open. All of this observation is done with joy as he happily mimics the latest sign he has learned.

Word painted descriptions of Naples, the way the light plays on the buildings at eventide or the scorching of the noon day sun are artfully rendered, yet it is the Neapolitans themselves who are the heartbeat of the city and of this memoir. Hofstadter was fortunate in making so many friends from whom he learned a great deal. There is Gigi, a "theater person with dyed-blonde porcupine like hair" who schooled him in the Neopolitan dialect, and his landlady, Nunzia Perna, who had lived through the war's bombings. Two brothers, avid spelunkers who have spent their lives exploring the underground avenues that can be tracked throughout the cit introduced him to this hidden terrain.. There are many more friends and acquaintances, of course, all with stories to tell.

There are no answers in this wise and witty memoir, simply observations that illuminate one man's quest. Hofstadter has often journeyed to the city of his heart. Fortunate is the reader who shares a visit with him.

- Gail Cooke
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2005
This marvelously written memoir is very funny and extremely poignant. It captures a foreigner's love of one of the world's most peculiar places perfectly. It's also full of masterly character studies worthy of Dickens or Greene. Deserves to be a bestseller. Buy it, you can't go wrong.

RD
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2007
This book is absorbing and fascinating in content, in addition to being extremely well written. It's full of insights into problematical personal relationships, and also into perhaps the ultimate, complicated personal relationship: that between a foreigner and the city with which (and in which) he falls in love.

Naples is my least favorite among Italian cities, and this author didn't convince me to go back there, but he presents Naples and its inhabitants most vividly, in all their complexity and ambiguity. While many foreign memoirists, and even ex-pats like the insufferable Frances Mayes, remain on the surface of the societies where they take up residence, confining their contacts mainly to other foreigners and treating most Italians as servants, Hofstadter lives and loves among the ordinary people of Naples, sharing their discomforts as well as their pleasures. His title is understandable, too--the "falling palace" that appears in one of his dreams is a metaphor of Naples itself-- always falling apart and yet never destroyed.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2006
I loved this book. The author writes of Naples and its colorful characters with such affection and clarity. I could picture each of them and almost hear them talking and gesturing (especially the praying hands) in their unique Neapolitan manner. The author describes the streets and buildings so vividly that I felt like I was tagging along on his visits. I felt like I knew Benedetta and Nunzia, even Renzo, and I was truly sad when the book ended.

As I got to know these brave and sad people in this city so often invaded or occupied, I understood so well why my beloved mom and her family were so proud of their Neapolitan roots. On a family trip to Italy some years ago, my mom quickly picked up the Italian language of her youth. Many people complimented her and said she sounded like she was "from the North." On the contrary, she would reply proudly, "Sono Napolitana." This book helped me to understand the origin of that pride.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is a series of travel essays on Naples. While some could be published as articles on their own, in this book they are uniquely tied together with the story of Hofstadter's romance. Or is it a romance? This is as unknowable as Naples itself, and DF lovingly shows us how mysterious it all can be. This is a gem of a book and I was sorry to leave DF and Naples when I finished it.

As a post script, could some of the underground network Hof. describes be lava tubes? We have some tall ones on the "Big Island" here in Hawai'i.

Post post script: I've come upon a "Smithsonian" article by Hofstadter from Nov. 2004 on the tunnels. The book presents them in an anecdotal way. The article is packed with info. and with one picture being worth 1000 words, there are 9 very good ones.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2006
Don Hofstadter really embraces Naples wholeheartedly, and this is what makes the book such a good read. Rather than looking on as an outsider, he dives in and engages many of the local folk. He introduces us to many of his acquaintances, and in the process describes many fascinating aspects of Naples, its customs, neighborhoods, people and relations with other Italian cities.

The book is a combination memoir, travelogue, romance and history. If you are interested in Italy, you will enjoy this unique perspective on Naples.
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on April 6, 2011
Having read and loved Hofstadter's book TEMPERAMENTS some years ago, I was inspired to read FALLING PALACE recently and was pleasantly rewarded. Hofstadter has a an easy, almost conversational style with a painterly eye for details. He has an alert but serene sensibility and a gift for personal reflection. His love of Naples is palpable and his descriptions of the city are memorable. The narrative (which can be quite suspenseful) holds some surprises, a lot of humor, some eccentric characters, and a haunting, almost melancholy afterglow. I recommend it to any serious reader. My only reservation is that the love affair at the center of the book is ultimately left a bit too vague. I kept feeling that there was some important emotion missing between the two characters, something unexplained, which left me with too many questions.
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on January 30, 2010
I highly recommend Falling Palace if you're at all interested in Naples. I've been to the city as a tourist and Hofstadter's insights into that city's places and people helped frame my own experiences there. If you're looking for a romance, or for insights into love, this is probably not the book for you. I think the relationship side of the story would have been much improved had Hofstadter revealed more about himself, his past, and his feelings rather than attempting to so poetically and ornately describe everything. At times the book felt a bit overwrought. Despite that criticism, I still give it five stars overall.
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VINE VOICEon December 1, 2008
Take a lonely foreign writer obsessed with a forbidden and doomed love affair perambulating about an old wounded Italian city and Thomas Mann scribbling away at the Hotel des Bains on the Lido comes to mind. But this is not "Death in Venice," this is Dan Hofstadter in his love song to Naples. The writing is exquisite; descriptions jump off the page, metaphors burst with color and verve, the characters are thoroughly unique and the dialogue fascinatingly original. Fact or fiction? One does not care. This is a charming book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
My only impression of Naples was a sun-filled afternoon many years ago while on a tour of nearby Pompeii and Sorrento. This book conjured those memories for me and made me want to go back and stay longer.

A delightful book, far more than a travelogue. Highly recommended!!!!
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