Cover Image: Wandering through Life

Wandering through Life

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Donna Leon, Wandering through Life A Memoir, Grove Atlantic, Atlantic Monthly Press, September 2023.

Thank you, NetGalley, for providing me with this uncorrected proof for review. 

I thoroughly enjoy the sharp, witty, intellectual approach Donna Leon takes to her detective novels. This book is less sharp, and indeed, ‘wandering’ is an important description of the memoir. Although chronological, these almost stand-alone essays lack the strength exhibited by Leon in her fiction. I have to admit, give me Guido Brunetti and his exploits any day! However, although I was somewhat disappointed when I began reading the memoir, as I became accustomed to the style my feelings mellowed, and I began to enjoy reading the background to the writer of well-loved detective stories. Leon’s explanation that Brunetti cannot be found in Italy because of the tourists who look for him attests to the immediacy of the novels. To enjoy the memoir, forget their clarity, and take pleasure in beginning to wander.

The chapters on Leon’s early life were interesting enough but not compelling. Where I began to really take note and think about the life she has led was in the later chapters where she teaches English in Iran, China and Saudi Arabia. There is some wonderful material here, witty commentary at times, and underlying her descriptions recognition that others’ experiences would be vastly different. It is Leon’s story, so she does not dwell too heavily on these, but does give some attention the lives of Iranian, Chinese and Saudi citizens to show she is on the periphery of other worlds, those that she does not enter. 

Wandering through Life A Memoir is at its best when Leon is writing about Italy. Here Brunetti’s experiences and the wit Leon uses when writing about these is more apparent. For these chapters alone this book is worth reading.
Was this review helpful?
Wandering through Life is a thoughtful and well written memoir by Donna Leon. Released 19th Sept 2023 by Grove Atlantic, it's 208 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

Donna Leon has enjoyed remarkable longevity as an author, and a wonderfully broad number of different careers over the 8 decades of her well-lived life. This is a meandering and unhurried series of vignettes detailing some of her experiences. Biography fans who look forward to facts and dates will have to dig a bit deeper; this volume is presented as a series of recollections, gathered loosely thematically: America (early life), wandering the globe, Italy, and later experiences living in Switzerland and elsewhere.

The pacing is very slow, meandering, and full of reminiscence. She writes with wit and humor about her long life and career as an author.

Four stars. Enjoyable, especially for readers who are already fans. It would make a good choice for gifting or public library acquisition. 

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes
Was this review helpful?
Pour a glass of prosecco and enjoy Donna Leon's memoir.
Each entry is the length of a conversation between two vaporetto passengers.
There is a topic for every audience: opera, Guido Brunetti, beekeeping, the environment, stray cats and growing old.
Polite as a Venetian and witty as a New Jersey girl, Leon traces her wandering through graduate school in America, teaching jobs in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and discovering home in Venice and  Switzerland.
Brief but spectacular.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to the author, Atlantic Monthly Press and NetGalley, for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Although I have read a few of the author's  Brunetti books and enjoyed them, I would not call myself a fan - but looked forward to reading this memoir all the same. Wandering is the operative word, and in my view this is more of a collection of essays which includes some autobiographical glimpses, but is just as much musings on various topics. All in all a quick and enjoyable read by a talented author, but not a must-read.
Was this review helpful?
Readers of my blog know that I am a great fan of Leon’s Brunetti series of Venice-set mysteries. Both the books and the TV series have been so enjoyable. (The TV show episodes got me through some of the early days of Covid. I found Brunetti having dinner looking out at the canals so grounding in that time.) I love the character that she has developed in him; Brunetti sees so much corruption yet remains a good man, a good husband, a good father and a good friend. I have found the books to be ones that I am always eager to read.

That said, Wandering Through LIfe is not chefly about Brunetti, but rather about Brunetti’s creator. In these pages, Leon shares stories about her own life. I enjoyed getting to know her and her wandering ex-pat life, though to be fair, she spent many years in Italy. Leon has lived in a many places including the U.S. (with time on a farm), Iran, and, some other countries as well. In her 9th decade, she now lives in Switzerland.

This book has chapters of varying lengths. They cover many facets of Leon’s life. Keep an eye out for the story of Leon’s doctoral dissertation. It is just one of many interesting stories that are contained within these pages. This is a lovely and lively memoir and one that it is easy to recommend.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for this title. All opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed the short snippets of her life. I would have been bored by the usual went here, did that, saw this and said that. Oh and don't let me forget the fabulous people I met along the way. She certainly had an interesting life and I enjoyed some of the stories more than others but they all added up to a whole. This was a short and quick book and I would recommend it if you want a peak into Donna Leon's life.

Thank you to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a digital copy.
Was this review helpful?
Wandering and memoir certainly reflects what Donna Leon has captured in her book.   It reflects glimpses of her life but is fascinating in what she has seen and done in her life, sans her prolific writing.   Her early life reflects her attitude on life due to her mother’s life.  Their Thanksgiving was hysterical but I’m glad I wasn’t invited.  Her adventures in teaching took her to Iran, China and Saudi Arabia and she added to these adventures particularly when she and some other teachers developed a game called $audiopoly.  I was delighted to learn of her joy she finds in music, particularly Handel.  One learns of her love of Venice (but we knew that through her books).  I heartily wish that one will find their bit of happiness in this book.  Thanks for an ARC from NetGalley and Grove Atlantic; this is my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Wandering Through Life is something of a meander, but it's enjoyable to spend some time with the author of one of my favorite detective series.  Leon is a self-proclaimed slacker, but her writing talents have produced a significant body of work that has apparently given her the freedom to roam northern Italy and Switzerland doing what she enjoys.  More power to her!  We get to meet some of her friends and enjoy small glimpses into her life.  All of this is quite enjoyable, if not profound.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
Varied life—in Venice and beyond.

How could one not be tempted by a look at Donna Leon’s life, the author of my favorite Venetian detective. A man who’s philosophical journeying must have something of his creator instilled in home.
‘Wandering Through Life’ is more a meander, with Leon’s journeys and reflections on things making for interesting a Window into her background.
However, back to Commissario Brunetti and my fascination, and can I say disbelief, that tourists have been plaguing the Questera of Venice  looking for the fictional detective at the Polizia di Stato. Leon was called on to help. Which she did with her signature aplomb.
Leon’s life, her travels, and her disgruntlement with tourists all make for ready reading.
Short and descriptive chapters of life according to Leon, this memoir is a must for all fans.

A Grove Atlantic ARC via NetGalley.                                              
Many thanks to the author and publisher.
(Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.)
Was this review helpful?
Lovely autobiography.  Loved her books- every one- and loved this story of her life.  Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher.
Was this review helpful?
Wandering Through Life by Donna Leon is a memoir which does exactly what the title says - the telling of her story is a wander, ambling along with reflections of her life, told mostly in chronological order. Reminiscing over snippets of her life, of places where she has gone and things she has done.
An interesting read and certainly entertaining.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from Grove Atlantic, Atlantic Monthly Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

#WanderingThroughLife #NetGalley
Was this review helpful?
A well thought out memory of a life well lived and with miles to go before sleep.
The vignettes are simple yet enjoyable in a mostly chronological order. It was enlightening to read about her years teaching literature in a variety of nations.
PS: I love her Commissario Guido Brunetti series set in Venice, Italy.
I requested and received an EARC from Grove Atlantic, Atlantic Monthly Press via NetGalley. Thank you
Was this review helpful?
I love Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti series, so when I saw she published a memoir, I had to find out more about the creator of this awesome character. I had the benefit of watching an interview she she did about her memoir, so got a sense of her personality and I didn’t expect this book it to be a “tell all.” She has a great sense of humor - self deprecating, dry, and tongue in cheek - which is quite evident in her book. What was interesting was her approach to life and the jobs that took her to various countries. I imagine her keen insight into people, what motivates them, and her empathy for them - as she so aptly demonstrates in Brunetti series - has been greatly honed by her lived experiences. I enjoyed her wit and observations about people and how she’s lived her life, or at least what she shared in the book. While she shared somewhat about her personal life, I got the sense she held back a lot, which was just fine. I actually liked thot she didn’t overshare - she retained her personal privacy and mystique. While she is aware that time is marching on - she’ll be 81 years old in a couple of weeks - she’s hoping she has more on Guido Brunetti to come. I most certainly hope so too! Thanks Ms. Leon for the opportunity to peek a bit into the mind and life of Guido Brunetti’s creator! Many thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.
Was this review helpful?
I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley.

I always enjoy reading Donna Leon's wonderful Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries. In these books she follows a fascinating cast of characters as they solve crimes and discuss life in her beloved Venice.

In Wandering through Life, Leon shares memories of her 80 years via a series of vignettes, through which the reader learns about her different experiences. She has lived and taught in many different places and she brings vivid descriptions of everything through her writing.

If you have followed Commissario Brunetti and his friends, you should read about his creator.
Was this review helpful?
An enjoyable but not especially revealing tour of Leon's life.  This is less a memoir in the traditional sense than a series of anecdotes about a fairly happy childhood that led to a life wandering through interesting places and then settling in Venice.  The most personal section of the book is the last, when she touches on aging- there are some sentences and sentiments that will no doubt resonate with those who, like, are thinking about this as well.  Leon puts a light touch and a glow on her family, on living and working in restrictive countries, and on music. Most of all, however, her affection for Venice shines through.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.   You won't know Leon any better after reading this but it's engaging.
Was this review helpful?
An interesting type of memoir from Donna Leon, the author of the popular Commissario Guido Brunetti series. This series has been a favorite of mine for years, so I was happy to get an advance copy from NetGalley.
Rather than writing a more traditional memoir, in “Wandering Through Life Leon does just that: the book consists of short episodes of her life. Stories about Leon’s early life with interesting family members, how she developed her love for reading, her discovery of opera and classical music, and jobs in Iran and Saudi Arabia take the reader wandering through Leon’s life, as the title promises. I would have liked more about Brunetti, but nevertheless, I enjoyed learning about someone I am sure would be fascinating to have a conversation with.
Thank you to NetGalley for providing an advance copy for review.
Was this review helpful?
Less a memoir than a series of loosely chronological scenes from the life of Donna Leon, author best-known for her detective novels set in Venice and featuring Guido Brunetti.  Probably most interesting to readers of the Brunetti novels who are curious about how Leon ended up in Venice writing about an Italian police officer.  A quick read, with some chapters more interesting than others (I enjoyed reading about Iran in the 1970s, as well as her heartfelt description of her mom) but the chapters are short enough to move on if they don't grab the reader's interest.  Thanks to NetGalley and Atlantic Monthly Press for the ARC.
Was this review helpful?
I'm a big Donna Leon fan and have read all the Brunetti books. This book is billed as a memoir but it more seems like notes on some parts of life and some observations. We learn (even though I already knew) that she was born and raised in New Jersey, went to college and never quite completed her PhD. She worked in New York City, taught English in Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia, and finally ending up teaching English at an American Air Force base north of Venice. She gives us observations on bees, on making up a fake board game,  opera, and on the fact that she is getting older. Unfortunately, except for 2 comic pages on Brunetti and tourist expectations to meet him, there is little on Brunetti and his development. I suspect that the Brunetti mysteries ended up giving Leon a comfortable life. She lived in Venice for 30 years and left for Switzerland when the cruise ships and tourists became over-bearing. She has a home outside of Zurich and another in the Dolomites.
I you are not a Brunetti fan this book will be of little interest to you. If you, like me, are a Brunetti fan, this will be required reading as thin as it is.
Was this review helpful?
What a fun read! The book is a memoir from the beloved author of Commissario Brunetti mystery series. Using her usual ironic tone, Donna Leon talks about her life in which she admits, "I had seen and done unusual things." So, the book does hold unexpected discoveries about Donna's live and her many careers.  Do not expect much in a sense of traditional biography in a sequence of born, educated, career, marriage, children and retirement. Her memoir resembles a game of hopscotch. The collection of stories she put together stops at thirty but closing the book you wish she would tell you more. She says ‘I went through life never having a real job, never having a pension plan, never settling down in one place or at one job, but having an enormous amount of fun.” The impression after reading her book though is that in all her travels she was gathering her experiences to use them later in her writing. Like a good mystery writer,  Donna leaves you clues to figure her out, what she likes and dislikes, and what matters to her. Readers would enjoy many funny stories in her book and stop to think over her more serious commentaries. Her description of shopping in Venice's Rialto Market using the classic manual of war written by Prussian general as a guide was especially hilarious. And her outlook on life and aging is contagious. Like she said in the book, "Looking good, babe."
Was this review helpful?
As a huge Brunetti (et al) fan, I really really wanted to love this book, but it just fell flat for me. I did really enjoy the format being little anecdotes rather than a day by day memoir. A few stories were interesting, but most of them I felt were lacking in emotion/connection. I just had this vague sense of "so what" after them. It really hit a peak for me when Ms Leon tiptoed around her belief that, prior to her beginning to teach soldier, soldiers were stupid and uneducated. That whole section just really didn't seem very thought out in the message it conveyed vs what it meant to convey. With all that said, none of this changes my opinion of Ms Leon's brilliancy. I hope that this book isn't a bookend on her writing career and that we have many more years of Brunetti to come!
Was this review helpful?