Falling Palace

Genre: Nonfiction; Author: Dan Hofstadter; Publisher: Knopf

Oversentimental odes to Italy are as ubiquitous as store-bought sauce (and about as bland, too). But Falling Palace, a so-called ”Romance of Naples,” is chilometri away from those sun-kissed, espresso-soaked travelogues. Dan Hofstadter, a tourist-turned-short-term resident, writes of a ”beautiful and wounded city.” Just as he recalls ”the fragrance of perpetual gaiety,” he cannot forget ”half-derelict palazzi” and tiny, ”tomblike” bassi (apartments). Of course, there is a girl — isn’t there always? — Benedetta, who dismisses his opinions and corrects his grammar. (After hearing her lover cohost a local radio show, she tells him, ”You overworked your subjunctives.”) Hofstadter paints a warts-and-all portrait of both Benedetta and Naples, and the two are all the more alluring for their imperfections. He does linger too long in the city’s sprawling underground, but one can’t fault him for digging deep.

Originally posted November 16 2005 — 12:00 AM EST

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