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A picture book whose text is the result of a two-hour TV documentary written and narrated by best-selling novelist Vidal. At times Vidal personalizes his text with background genealogy of the Vidal family, which is of Friuli ancestry, and of the Vidal's gradual descent into the maritime empire of Venice. We even see the Rio de S. Vidal canal, adrift with flotsam in present-day Venice. And the text is also hand-tinted, here and there, by Vidal's wicked humors. But the basic text itself is all too flatly retailed. Of course, on the tube with Vidal's voice behind the images, it will all sound wonderfully personal--though how this text and the documentary's overlap or complement each other is not quite clear. Many of the creamy photographs by Tore Gill, shot especially for the book, are luscious clich‚s ("". . .it seems no work on Venice is complete without them,"" Gill himself comments), but he is quite fresh on the Carnevale and the magic of Venice after dark. Vidal covers the birth of Venice, from the time when it was just a mud outpost for mighty, downtown Torcello, through its rise as a maritime power ruling the Mediterranean, its growth as a banking center and its influx of Jews (""When the Inquisition in Rome accused the Venetians of not burning enough Jews as heretics, the Venetians serenely replied that as the Jews had never been Christians to begin with, they could hardly be heretics""), its enormous importance to the Church, the flowering of its greatest artists (Tintoretto, Veronese, Giorgione, Bellini) and writers (Giacomo Casanova, who escaped over the roofs after two years imprisonment in the Doge's Palace) and visiting geniuses (Byron, Wagner, Browning, Henry James), and its decline into a sort of Disneyland. Well-done and readable, though a heavier serving of Vidalismo would have been welcomed; too many pages could have been assembled by any talented information organizer.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster