My Venice and Other Essays


Donna Leon’s wildly popular novels starring Venetian Commissario Guido Brunetti have been praised for their intricate plots and gripping narratives, but also for their insight into the culture, politics, family life, and history of Venice, one of the world’s most treasured cities and Leon’s home for over thirty years. Leon’s books open the doors to a private Venice, beyond the reach of the millions of international travelers who delight in the city’s canals, food, and art every ...

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My Venice and Other Essays

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Donna Leon’s wildly popular novels starring Venetian Commissario Guido Brunetti have been praised for their intricate plots and gripping narratives, but also for their insight into the culture, politics, family life, and history of Venice, one of the world’s most treasured cities and Leon’s home for over thirty years. Leon’s books open the doors to a private Venice, beyond the reach of the millions of international travelers who delight in the city’s canals, food, and art every year.

My Venice and Other Essays is a treat for lovers of Italy and La Serenissima. Collected here are over fifty funny, charming, passionate, and insightful essays that range from battles over garbage in the canals to troubles with rehabbing Venetian real estate. Leon shares episodes from her life in Venice, explores her love of opera, and recounts tales from in and around her country house in the mountains. With poignant observations and humor, she also explores her family history and former life in New Jersey, and the idea of the Italian man.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Best known for her Venetian mystery series featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti (The Golden Egg, etc.), Leon turns to real life with this engaging yet overstuffed essay collection on everything from her adopted city to animals. Divided into six sections—On Venice, On Music, On Mankind and Animals, On Men, On America, and On Books—Leon muses, reminisces, and often complains about her Italian home of more than 30 years. While Venice isn’t associated with cleanliness, Leon makes it clear just how dirty the city is in the bluntly titled “Garbage” and “Shit” (the latter of the canine variety). But in the titular essay, it’s clear also that she loves the community feel and unforced camaraderie of her neighborhood, where the city’s lack of cars means citizens are “forced to walk forced to meet.” A music aficionado, with a particular penchant for the underappreciated Handel, Leon makes the arias and orchestrations come alive in “On Beauty and Freedom in the Opera” and “Confessions of an American Handel Junkie.” Originally from New Jersey, though she’s lived and taught in locations as varied as Saudi Arabia and China, Leon takes her native country to task on issues of obesity (“Fatties”), the Manhattan male (“The New York Man”), and fear (“The United States of Paranoia”). With most of the essays running no longer than three or four pages, the volume leans a bit too much on the side of quantity (there are 55 essays), but Leon’s distinctive voice is reason enough to power through. (Dec.)
Library Journal
The intricate and exotically nuanced Venice, certainly an integral ingredient in the appeal of native New Jerseyan Leon's "Commissario Guido Brunetti" mysteries, holds center frame in this collection of essays influenced by the author's 30 years in the "Floating City." Reminiscent of writing by Patricia Highsmith and Ernest Hemingway, Leon's style is sparse and compact—the majority of essays comprise only a page or two—yet not at the cost of detail, insight, or sagacity. And though her travels and encounters surely drive most sections, she doesn't mull or meander, instead offering sharply revealing and precisely vivid sentences. With an alert perspective and skilled hand at turning "the reveal," Leon sparks seemingly exhausted topics such as politics, social customs, hamburgers, or fat Americans into something fresh. Heightening the intrigue, her essays are, with a subtle but nonetheless cunning pomp, rarely what they seem. VERDICT Fans of Leon's Brunetti books will take great pleasure deducing how her thoughts on everyday life on the island may shape and affect her series. Recommended for the author's fans, travelers, writers, and lovers of Venice or Italy. [See Prepub Alert, 6/3/13.]—Benjamin Malczewski, Toledo-Lucas Cty. P.L.
Kirkus Reviews
An American mystery writer reveals a new character: herself. Leon (The Golden Egg, 2013, etc.) is the author of the Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries, set in Venice, where she has lived for more than 30 years. In this new collection, Leon muses about that celebrated city, its inhabitants and visitors, unique landscape, arts, culture and food, and also about men, music, animals--and America, which, she admits, she continues to call "home." Most of the pieces are very short, more like journal entries or blog posts than well-structured essays; at best, their form gives them an easy, conversational quality. At worst, they flit too quickly from thought to thought as Leon reveals her passions--for Baroque opera, for example--and her many strong dislikes. Here, a selective list is in order: fat people, hunters, the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, self-absorbed American men, the proliferation of the words "like" and "I mean" in American speech, sanctimonious diplomats, the grim players of slot machines, and the hordes of tourists who defile whatever place they visit, causing "far greater harm to the planet than have terrorist bombs." Leon writes warmly about music and animals, offering a charming portrait of the modest and articulate mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, an artist she much admires. A lifelong "dog addict," the author fell in love at first sight with Blitz, a dog trained to sniff out drugs and bombs. The essays grouped under the heading "On Books" are not, as readers might expect, about literature but instead include her experiences with the seduction of email, her astonishment over a physician's powers of observation and her incredulity about the outpouring of grief at Lady Diana's death. An uneven collection showing Leon to be a cranky, though sometimes witty and insightful, critic of her times.
From the Publisher
“Leon . . . takes both loving and jaundiced looks at Italy and the United States, music, men and many other subjects in My Venice.”—New York Times Book Review

“Entertaining [and] unapologetically opinionated.”—New York Times

“Cheerfully opinionated. . . . An intriguing glimpse at the strong views of an exceptionally interesting and entertaining novelist.”—Seattle Times

“So keenly observed that they almost make me homesick for a city I’ve only visited . . . [Leon’s essays] have the kind of friendly intimacy of a letter from a friend far away”—Boston Globe

“Donna Leon is . . . a practiced writer of sharply observed commentary. . . . Leon clearly loves her adopted city, but she is not so pie-eyed as to overlook—and report to often hilarious effect—its idiosyncratic imperfections. . . . Savoring these short and engaging pieces is akin to sharing a latte at a Venetian café with an entertaining, opinionated, intelligent friend.”—BookPage

“Well known as the author of the Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery novels, American Donna Leon has lived in Venice for 30 years and knows its vagaries and delights in and out. The essays in My Venice are filled with her pointed observations, humor and insight. . . . Leon's great intelligence and wit come through in every one. . . . A lively collection.”—Shelf Awareness

“Leon . . . is literate, witty and contentious, with a ready sense of humor and an eye for the absurd. I’d love to have a cappuccino with her.”—Kathy Weissman,

“Engaging. . . . Leon muses, reminisces, and often complains about her Italian home of more than 30 years. . . . But in the titular essay, it’s clear also that she loves the community feel and unforced camaraderie of her neighborhood.”—Publishers Weekly

“[Leon] never fails to explore the periphery of her topic, deepening her theme and giving it context and nuance.”—Booklist

“Absorbing. . . . My Venice and Other Essays . . . provide[s] morsels of wit and sharp observations.”—New York Journal of Books

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802120366
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/3/2013
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 171,383
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Donna Leon is the author of the internationally bestselling Commissario Guido Brunetti series. The winner of the CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction, among other awards, Leon was born in New Jersey and has lived in Venice for thirty years.


Donna Leon's love affair with Italy began in the mid-1960s when she visited for the first time. She returned frequently over the course of the next decade, while working as a teacher in such far-flung paces as Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, England, Iran, and China. In the 1980s, the New Jersey native made the decision to move to Venice, where she still lives.

Leon's writing career began accidentally. One evening, following a performance at Venice's famous opera house, Teatro La Fenice, Leon and some friends were discussing a certain conductor they all heartily disliked. Someone jokingly suggested killing him off; and when the conversation turned to how, where, and why, suddenly the idea for a dandy murder mystery took shape in Leon's mind. Published in 1992, Death at La Fenice introduced Commissario Guido Brunetti, the melancholy Venetian policeman who would go on to star in a series of witty, intelligently plotted, and critically acclaimed detective novels.

Brunetti is, indeed, one of the most appealing characters in crime fiction, and one of the pleasures of the series is the revelation of new and surprising facets to his personality. Intellectual, introspective, and world weary, he is also happily married, totally committed to his job, and a lover of classical music, good food, and jokes. But, above all, Guido Brunetti is "Venetian to the bone" -- born into and shaped by a society filled with cultural contradictions. Through her detective's eyes, Leon illuminates the central paradox of Venice: Beneath the ravishing beauty and civilized veneer lurks a core of insidious and utterly pervasive corruption. Brunetti's cynicism stems from his inability to stem the tide -- although, bless his heart, he never stops trying.

Elegant writing, deft characterization, and lots of local color elevate the Brunetti novels above run-of-the-mill series, and Leon's reputation has grown with each installment. But although her books are international bestsellers, they have never been translated into Italian. The author explained why in an interview with National Public Radio: " I do not take any pleasure whatsoever in being a famous person. The tenor of my life would change if these books were translated into Italian, because I'm completely anonymous here." Anonymous in Venice, perhaps. Elsewhere, Donna Leon is a rock star!

Good To Know

An opera buff with a passion for baroque music, Leon has written the libretto for a comic opera entitled Dona Gallina.

For a few years, Leon reviewed crime fiction for the Sunday Times.

In Germany, several of the Commissario Brunetti novels have been adapted into television mini-series.

A woman of strong opinions, Leon reads voraciously for topical issues to use in her novels. Among the serious matters she has written about are industrial pollution, human trafficking, illegal adoption, and corruption in the Catholic Church.

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    1. Hometown:
      Venice, Italy
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 28, 1942
    2. Place of Birth:
      Montclair, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A., 1964; M.A. 1969; postgraduate work in English literature

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