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.
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Located on a narrow, mountainous finger of Italy hard by Croatia and Slovenia, the port city of Trieste is something of a backwater, little visited and seldom in the news. As Jan Morris, who first came to Trieste as the English soldier James Morris in 1945, writes, "It offers no unforgettable landmark, no universally familiar melody, no unmistakable cuisine, hardly a single native name that anyone knows."
Yet, as historian and travel writer Morris ably demonstrates in this homage to one of her favorite cities (others about which she has written are Hong Kong, Sydney, New York, and Venice), Trieste has many charms. Its history is foremost among them, thanks to the city's former role as the sole port of the otherwise landlocked Austro-Hungarian empire, which housed a small fleet there--a fleet that, from time to time, would sail off to make war against the Ottomans or the Italians. At the beginning of the 20th century, Trieste had grown to international importance as an entry point into Central Europe, so much so that it was referred to as "the third entrance of the Suez Canal." Trieste briefly took center stage at the onset of the cold war, when Marshall Tito claimed it for Yugoslavia; it narrowly avoided being enveloped by the Iron Curtain. Morris tells all these stories and more, bringing the city's past to life; no one should be surprised if Trieste sees more visitors thanks to her spirited study.
Yet Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere is also a work tinged with melancholy. That befits the city's faded glory, but it also has to do with the sad fact that this will be Morris's last book--or so she promises. Let's hope she changes her mind. If not, however, this serves very well as the capstone of a distinguished career. --Gregory McNameeAbout the Author:
Jan Morris has written more than thirty books of travel, history, and autobiography, including Manhattan 1945 and The World of Venice. Her novel Last Letters from Hav was a finalist for the Booker Prize. She lives in Wales.
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