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Bookmarks Issue: 
22-May-June-2006
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A Romance of Naples

A-FallingPalaceDan Hofstadter, a New Yorker contributor, was an early Italophile. His Italian-American playmates in New York granted him reprieve from what he describes as a "charmless childhood," and an as adult, he fell for the vibrant street life of Naples. His interest in this most contradictory and inexplicable of Italian cities blossomed into infatuation just as he fell in love with the beautiful and mysterious woman Benedetta. From the ancient Greek and Roman ruins beneath Spaccanapoli to the intricate language of Neapolitan hand gestures, Hofstadter explores his deep affection for both the place and its inhabitants in this memoir-cum-love story.
Knopf. 247 pages. $24. ISBN: 0375414401

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The city prevails on every page, in its theatricality, singularity and sagacity, familiarity and formality, erudition and street acuity; its logic and its resilience under adversity. Naples has little to say to the fast-forward of modern tourism; but whoever lingers in its long adventure, learns its languages and submits to it as to a teeming work of art, will be changed." Shirley Hazzard

San Diego Union Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Many of the author’s experiences are multilayered. … Perhaps the book starts out with a bit too much aimless cataloging (of hand gestures, people riding Vespas, friends’ stories), but overall, this is an absorbing, intelligent memoir worth a close read." Sara Lewis

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Anyone who attempts to use Mr. Hofstadter as a guide to Naples might well become lost immediately and yet would feel instantly at home in his surroundings. Through the gradual accumulation of detail … this extraordinarily observant writer constructs an entrancing portrait of an extraordinarily complex city." Mary Taylor Simeti

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"There’s an ache that runs through this book—a man aches for a girl and a city that he knows can never really be his. And the reader aches for Naples itself." Marjorie Kehe

Critical Summary

A cynic might assume that with Rome and Tuscany overrun with tourists (and memoirs), Naples is the next logical hot spot. But there’s nothing logical about Naples, and this highly personal story finds its author on solid (if slightly volcanic) ground. Critics praise the evocation of place, the lively characterizations, and above all, "the exquisite precision of Mr. Hofstadter’s prose" (Wall Street Journal). If he glosses over some of Naples’s problems (heavy unemployment, drugs, and the Neapolitan mafia, the camorra), he does so with the myopia of a lover—focusing on the city’s beauty at the expense of some of its nagging vices.