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NIGHT LETTERS by Robert Dessaix


by Robert Dessaix

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-16950-7
Publisher: St. Martin's

A literary Australian's affliction with HIV and his decision to spend some of his remaining time in Europe are merely the pretexts for this surprisingly engrossing collection of epistolary reflections on the meaning of life, love, and time—a bestseller in Australia that deserves to find an appreciative audience here. ``Midway along the journey of our life/I woke to find myself in a dark wood,'' this book begins, quoting from Dante's Inferno (a work to which the author frequently refers throughout the text). The words aptly describe the situation in which Dessaix's anonymous protagonist finds himself, having learned that he carries the HIV virus and can quite likely look forward to a slow, agonizing death. Loathe to disrupt his quiet life (he's a writer in Melbourne) by committing himself to fight the disease, unwilling to putter along pretending it doesn't exist, he decides to drift wherever chance takes him for a while in an effort to learn to experience his remaining moments as fully as he can. In these letters home, written in a Venice hotel room over the course of 20 days, our hero details his often mundane traveling adventures through Locarno, Vicenza, and Padua; details his intriguing conversations with a mysterious German professor staying at the hotel; meditates on the innate meaning and emotional significance of the cathedrals, museums, and venerable alleyways he frequents; and makes use of numerous entertaining discourses on the history of Venice, the nature of Venetians, the differences in philosophy and style between Marco Polo and Casanova, etc., as springboards for pondering the fate which awaits him—and all of us as well. Seductive, charming, and always thought-provoking. Despite this hero's unhappy prospects, he and his creator (a literary journalist and author of an Australian-published autobiography, A Mother's Disgrace) prove the best of traveling companions, whatever your journey happens to be.