One hundred years ago, Trieste was the chief seaport of the entire Austro-Hungarian empire, but today many people have no idea where it is. This fascinating Italian city on the Adriatic, bordering the former Yugoslavia, has always tantalized Jan Morris with its moodiness and melancholy. She has chosen it as the subject of this, her final work, because it was the first city she knew as an adult -- initially as a young soldier at the end of World War II, and later as an elderly woman. This is not only her last book, but in many ways her most complex as well, for Trieste has come to represent her own life with all its hopes, disillusionments, loves and memories.
Jan Morris evokes Trieste's modern history -- from the long period of wealth and stability under the Habsburgs, through the ambiguities of Fas-cism and the hardships of the Cold War. She has been going to Trieste for more than half a century and has come to see herself reflected in it: not just her interests and preoccupations -- cities, empires, ships and animals -- but her intimate convictions about such matters as patriotism, sex, civility and kindness. Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere is the culmination of a singular career.
With fluid, expressive prose, Welsh writer Morris (Lincoln) delivers an intriguing vision of the small seaside Italian city of Trieste. In an account that is part detailed history, part melancholy remembrance, Morris offers a vivid and loving description of a place and an eloquent reflection on growing old. In this slim volume, supposedly Morris's last, the author brilliantly weaves historic and personal memories (as the soldier James Morris, before her sex-change operation, she was stationed there during WWII), observations on love, lust, nationalism, exile and kindness, and a tender portrait of the oft-forgotten city. From glory to exile, from affluence to desertion, Morris shares the city's triumphs and hardships as one would the life story of an old and well-loved friend with affection, respect and a cheerful acceptance of little personality quirks. Tossed between Italy, Austria, Yugoslavia and finally back to Italy, Trieste, once one of the greatest port cities in the world, is now a sleepy town on the "end of its Italian umbilical." Morris writes, "So it is with me, after a lifetime of describing the planet, and I look at Trieste now as I would look into a mirror.... Much of this little book, then, has been a self-description." Populated with the well-drawn ghosts of such luminaries as James Joyce, Sir Richard Francis Burton and other "exiles" who made the city their home for a time, Morris's "little book" is as exuberant as it is bittersweet, as resigned as it is wistful.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Simon & Schuster
August 14, 2002
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