It’s the end of July, 1914, in Venice. A month has passed since the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo and Austria delivered its ultimatum to Serbia. Now Commendatore Niccolò Spada watches over his guests at the Excelsior—the presage of misfortune hanging over Europe blows on the Lido as well. In these final days of the Belle Époque, the Grand Hotel is crowded with the aristocracy of Europe. Among them is the marchioness Margarete von Hayek, «as beautiful as only a woman with a countenance equal to that of the Graces can be,» who hides a terrible, unspeakable secret. As she toasts the end of the world she asks Spada for a highly unusual letter of credit. But the Commendatore is bewildered, tormented by a recurring dream: a hunter obsessed with a beast that roams the forest, a beast that he has never encountered and that may be a lion, for he has heard its roar. Every night the same savage song returns, but perhaps it is just a prolonged death rattle. Molesini astutely blends actual events—the critical days leading up to the outbreak of the First World War—and historical figures with figures of his own imagination. Not even the looming tragedy can rob the Venetian Lagoon of its magic, and yet on everyone and everything, from the boatmen plying the canals to the mental asylum on San Servolo, weighs the sensation that were the world to explode, it would not only be Venice and its beauty that would tremble. This air of imminent storm, the sound of thunder and cannons signaling the end of an era, is rendered in astonishingly beautiful language, with a poetry suffused with the horror of the tempest on its way.
Published by Sellerio Editore
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