Casanova: Love Him or Leave Him

Eric Ormsby in The NY Sun:

Screenhunter_01_feb_15_1323Certain books betray the unmistakable flavor of their origins on every page. Kafka rarely mentioned Prague, but the city tinges every sentence he wrote. As he put it, “The little mother has claws.” Venice has claws too, though often discreetly sheathed. Even so, they flash at regular intervals throughout Casanova’s “History of My Life,” (Everyman’s Library, 1,497 pages, $35), the most quintessentially Venetian book ever penned. Though Casanova ranged over all of Europe during his long life, venturing as far east as Constantinople, he always remained fixed on Venice.

He was born there, the illegitimate son of a touring actress, on April 2, 1725, and for the rest of his days, he loathed and loved the place. When exiled, he contrived to sneak back; when imprisoned there, he longed only to escape. His birthplace defined the boundaries of his memory. His narrative, as alive with surprises as the city itself, takes us down unexpected alleyways from which we emerge, without quite knowing how, onto improbable piazzas. Like Venice, the great lover’s autobiography is a floating labyrinth.

The 12 volumes of “History of My Life,” drawn from the complete translation by Willard Trask, are now available from Everyman’s Library in a single hefty volume expertly abridged by Peter Washington and introduced by John Julius Norwich.

More here.