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» » The Story of San Michele
The Story of San Michele


Axel Munthe


The Story of San Michele


Biographies & Memoris

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1191 kb

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Da Capo Press; 2 edition (March 10, 2002)




Ethnic and National



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The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

A bestseller in a dozen languages and a favorite of readers for decades, The Story of San Michele is one of a remarkable life filled with fabulous experiences and ambitions. Axel Munthe was a fashionable physician in Paris who built one of the best-loved houses in the world, San Michele, on the Isle of Capri, on the site of the villa of the emperor Tiberius. Written with intelligence and verve, this autobiography tells tales of buried treasure in Italy, legendary creatures in Lapland, and the cold countesses and kindly whores of Naples—enough material, as one critic put it, "to furnish writers of short stories with plots for the rest of their lives." "A frank and absorbing autobiography…packed with good stories, vivid scenes, and memorable portraits." -- The Times [London] "Written in an imaginative style that is vigorous and impressive." -- New York Times
In 1972 a friend told me about the book "The Story of San Michele" by Axel Munthe and I read it in a very old 1930 edition. I had the great fortune to visit San Michele in Anacapri on the Isle of Capri, off of Naples, Italy, in 1972 and 1976. It is rightfully said to have one of the most magnificent views of any house in the world. The original 1929 book, which has sold millions, has been translated into 30 languages, and is one of the most loved books of the 20 th century. I read the book before I began a medical career, and am about to read it again 45 years later as I approach the end of it. I am pleased to see there have been several newly published editions in the past few years so it can be brought to new readership.
Munthe was a renaissance man and a physician. His book, however, only touched on parts of his life and left me wondering about his entire life as I sensed there was much more.
For those who always wanted a fuller picture of Munthe, there is a new (October 2016) book that is a detailed biography of Munthe at 381 pages, "Axel Munthe - The Road to San Michele", by Bengt Jangfeldt, HC 2008, paperback 2016. Jangfeldt is a Swedish professor of literature who has twice won the Swedish equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. This book won the Swedish Academy's biography prize, and is considered to "far surpass anything written about Munthe." It is a large book and full biography, with many high quality black and white photos. It is dedicated to Munthe family members. It is a very magnificent and welcome addition and I hope it also achieves the wide readership it deserves.
The 2010 hardcover edition of The Story of San Michele" by Oxford City Press is 534 pages. I do not see the usual original copyright marks at the beginning except for the cover. The table of contents lists "Special Preface for the American edition" however it is missing in my copy. I have reservations about this particular edition and suggest looking at other editions.
Axel Munthe begins his autobiography with a visit to Anacapri, the then difficult to reach upper village on the island of Capri. He is immediately enthralled by the island, the Roman ruins, the isolated people and their stories. Alas, Munthe decides to pursue his medical education and finishes at a furious pace before establishing himself as a fashionable doctor in Paris. He is finding patients among the mostly Italian street sweepers, does not hesitate to help during typhoid epidemics, and straddles the gap between aristocracy and the destitute. Munthe often secures help for the families of his poorest patients extending far beyond medical help. We meet all manner of people, never does Munthe shrink from visiting a sufferer, and we follow him to a residence, where ladies give birth to children they do not wish to keep - he saves the English mother and finds the abandoned child. Finally, an elderly couple in search of their daughter, exposes a horrific medical experiment and Munthe is summarily dismissed from his prestigious appointment. On to a cholera epidemic in Naples, where he confronts fear and seemingly deliberately inflicted death. Next to Sicily and the destruction wrought by the Messina earthquake and, after some incredible adventures, an escape to the mainland. A Matterhorn ascent that he barely survived is given some paragraphs. Finally, Munthe ends up in his ever-expanding villa in Anacapri, an esteemed (Protestant) foreigner, an affable host and ever busy builder of his villa. There is enough adventure, disease, disaster, narrow escapes, villains, and ordinary people to make you wonder how Munthe packed it all into a lifetime. It is a great book and Munthe is remarkable writer.
I read an excerpt from this book (the incident about the old lady and her pet bear) as a ten year-old nearly sixty years ago. The story fascinated me so much that I scoured every library in the town in India where I lived and by a miracle found the book. I did not understand some of it at the time, but the bits I understood of the book planted in me the seeds of a lifelong love of reading and the desire to become a full-time author, an ambition I achieved many decades later. This book was written in 1929, so although the writer's altruistic nature, humanity, humour and wisdom are much evident, the style is inevitably a bit dated. With this caveat in mind, I can unreservedly recommend this as a great book.

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