The book, as its title indicates, is divided into two parts, each devoted to one of the great riverside cities of the world. It opens with an account of Jeff Atman, a smart, but bored, arts journalist, in
We see the city through Jeff's eyes as he troops from one event to the next, always on the verge of an epiphany. The writing is rock solid as you feel Dyer's perspicacity (he has covered the Biennale twice) in Jeff's ways of seeing and being.
Jeff meets Laura, a journalist from
It is in contrast to
There is something magical about his attraction for it, a magnetism devoid of possessiveness, a love so magnanimous it threatens to strip existence of its banalities and discover its life-denying, yet life-affirming, center. Toward the end, the narrator has gone completely native, with a dhoti and bald head, losing all desire for worldly objects, even sex partners.
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is an interesting juxtaposition of two world views, refracted through the eyes of arguably the same person. It makes no judgments, yet in its evocation of a metaphorical death, the book pays heartier tributes to the East than it does to the West.
This review appeared in St Petersburg Times.