Your books have the recipe for a bestseller.
For the 31st time, Donna Leon (79) has her “Commissario Brunetti” determined with “charitable gifts” in Venice. There is no end in sight for the popular series, which also became a mega success thanks to the film adaptations. The exiled American doesn’t think about quitting at all.
BILD met Donna Leon in her adopted country of Switzerland and spoke to her about getting older, staying young, the worrying state of Venice and her cult figure “Commissario Brunnetti”.
BILD: How are you doing after more than two years of a worldwide state of emergency?
Donna Leon: “I’m doing well. I got through just fine. Luckily I don’t know anyone who was badly hit by Corona.”
Was the situation a good time for writers like you?
Leo: “I can’t say that I liked the period, nor that I didn’t like it. I was in Switzerland and could go outside. So it was pretty much the same as always. Of course I’m somewhat protected by my age. It would have been different 30 years ago. But – not being able to go to bars or restaurants for a while isn’t that bad anymore at my age. So age was an advantage for a change. The cliché is always that old people are always in a hurry and never have time. The opposite was the case for me.”
Where does old age begin?
Leo: “For me, age is like the red needle under the videos I see on my computer. You can slide them back and forth. Some people are old at 50 because they are mentally immobile. Other people who are much older stay young because they want to keep their minds mobile.”
Is age an advantage for people in your profession? So similar to cheese or red wine?
Leo: “Interesting comparison. But no, I don’t believe in that. For example, I don’t believe that Verdi’s last opera is his best either.”
Her current book is Commissario Brunetti’s 31st case…
Leo: ” … incredible, is not it? Sometimes I can’t believe it myself.”
How is your relationship with your books? Are they like children? Or a work of art that grows year by year?
Leo: “You are a great pleasure and a lot of fun for me. I enjoy writing them. I like the way from an ideal world into the abysses of the people. I like the humorous bits, but I also like telling uncomfortable truths. However, once my books are finished, I don’t read them again. And I don’t have them on the shelf either.”
Leo: “Why should I? I don’t have enough space for that.” (laughs)
Your stories about Venice are definitely suitable as contemporary documents.
Leo: “That may be so, but I see no reason to re-read my old books.”
Did you consciously decide to address Corona in your current crime novel?
Leo: “To pretend that Corona doesn’t exist would be historically incorrect. I wanted to show how our lives have changed. That we wear masks, that we behave differently. But I didn’t want anyone to die from it.”
You have recently been very concerned about your adopted home of Venice, which was under massive threat from the cruise ships. Has the city recovered from the pandemic?
Leo: “The situation for the city is back to what it was before the pandemic. Nothing has changed. The ships bring misfortune to the city. What people don’t understand is that the ships keep coming because the city wants them to. It’s all about the money. In the last two years we have seen that nature has slowly recovered. But from the moment it was possible, the ships were allowed to come back. People haven’t learned anything. Soon the damage will be back to pre-lockdown levels.”
How long will Venice survive?
Leo: “Define what you mean by survive?”
How much longer will the city look the way we know and love it?
Leo: “She doesn’t do that anymore. Venice is no longer a small provincial town with a healthy social life and extraordinary beauty. I’m not saying that the city is already dead. But soon she will be.”
You will be 80 this year.
Leo: “Oh, that’s just a number…”
Are you surprised that time has passed so quickly?
Leo: “I don’t think the time has passed so quickly. I didn’t wake up and think, ‘Oh my god, I’m turning 80 now…’ It doesn’t surprise me either.”
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Leo: “My advice would be, ‘Don’t get out in the sun too much!’ For us, born in the tanning era, the sun is our greatest enemy. We didn’t do ourselves any favors by trying to get as tanned as possible. I wasn’t very careful when I was young and was in the sun too much.”
What do you do to stay healthy?
Leo: “It’s actually really easy to stay healthy. It’s not hard work. There are three things you need: exercise, omega 3 and vitamin D. While these three ingredients don’t guarantee me a longer life, they do make life less unhealthy. But maybe I’m healthy because I had healthy parents.”
Age is also a theme in your book, one character suffers from dementia. Does the thought of losing your mind scare you?
Leo: “Oh, I could get run over by the bus tomorrow.”
At least that would be a quick death.
Leo: “That’s correct. But no, I don’t think about the ending. What happens, happens.”
Will Brunetti ever come to an end?
Leo: “Sure – if the books aren’t good anymore. Then I will stop. It’s dishonest for authors to write books they know are bad and then publish them anyway. I want to quit while the books are still good.”