THE FATAL GIFT OF BEAUTY: The Trials of Amada Knox By Nina Burleigh
A long time ago, I was graduated from college and did the classic “bum around Europe” trip with a good girlfriend of mine. This was in the very early 90’s. 1990’s. We flew from Los Angeles to Heathrow with backpacks and no itineraries whatsoever. It was a classic “the folly of youth” trip. But it was great. It is hard for me to imagine what that must have been like for my parents. No cell phones. No email—no internet cafes or what have you. No contact for 4 months. I may have sent a postcard or two. I had one specific command from the powers that be (in other words: those footing the bill) and that was to meet my grandmother at the Plaza Athenee in Paris on May 14th. I did have the semi-good sense to sort-of direct our trip to wind up in at least the right country by the end of April, and as we gallivanted around old Nice and the rest of the Riviera, every day I would ask some French kid: Quelle est la date?” (What’s the date?”) And finally one day someone said, “dix-neuf de Mai.” And that was it! Party’s over—we got on the TGV—speed train French style– and arrived in Paris that evening. As it turned out, the rather dour doormen at the Plaza Athenee wouldn’t let my scraggly, unshowered ass into the lobby of the hotel because they thought I was some sort-of vagrant so I had to wait on the steps—smoking with my pal, until my grandmother came back from her daily shopping tour and could vouch for my identity. And I will tell you this, as much as we were sort of glorying and basking in our bohemian, vagabond lifestyle, those plushy robes and a bit of room service at the Athenee sure felt nice—almost felt like coming home.
As our kids get older, it sometimes feels like every week or even every day carries with it some sort of milestone. My daughter turned 12, had her physical, and for the first time did not want me in the examination room. Granted, getting rid of me meant getting rid of her little sister as well which may have been the motive, but the fact is that she is fully and utterly in the beginning stages of puberty. She is very tall; she wears all my clothes and all my shoes. From the back and from far away, she looks like a young woman. She just started middle school. She has officially stayed home with her sister as the babysitter for an hour or two (maximum) when I have had to attend work meetings. She is remarkably responsible. She has collegiate and post-collegiate plans and has yet to enter high school. She is a text-book first born. And if some day she said to me that she wanted to go study abroad in Italy, say, I would support her and commend her for wanting to expand her horizons beyond the U.S. borders. To this day, I regret not doing that myself especially when the university I attended actually had multiple campuses (campi?) all over Europe. If and when either of my daughters ever studies abroad, I hope I can be semi-relaxed about it and not an absolute panicked mess. I am a BIG worrier by nature, and for whatever reason, I like to keep them close and a little sheltered. I may be overcompensating because of the trouble I got into. Hard to say—a lot of my contemporaries and I have way too many stories of times when really we should have died. Knock wood and it sounds awful to say, but I got lucky, a lot. I took a lot of stupid risks—some from not knowing any better and some from just feeling that crazy immortality that comes from being less than 2 decades old. If I can figure out how to teach my girls good sense and hardcore responsibility without squelching any of their natural “joie de vivre,” I’ll publish it and maybe bottle it and make a million dollars. In the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed and without divulging all my secrets, trying to advise them in the so-called “ways of the world” especially important when you are a young girl, far from home, surrounded by men trying desperately to take advantage of your innocence and your naivete.
So this brilliant book didn’t help my worry problem at all. I’m still recommending it because it is utterly riveting. Let me just quickly say, in case you didn’t know this as it was happening concurrently with an OBVIOUSLY GUILTY Casey Anthony being freed to go party and get more tattoos after killing her daughter, that Amanda Knox WAS convicted of murder and sentenced to 26 years in prison in an Italian jail. Having just finished this remarkably well researched book by highly regarded journalist Nina Burleigh, I can say that anyone in their right mind would say that Knox is innocent. The entire twisted story has been laid out with all its fascinating, bizarre and honestly grotesque details. Truly, an utterly horrifying miscarriage of justice on an international scale may have occurred because of cultural misunderstandings at best and at worst an utterly corrupt Italian legal system run by the mob and certain sexist and negative preconceptions about American women—especially beautiful American women like Amanda Knox.
The entire story—meticulously detailed by Burleigh—is a nightmare of murder, conspiracy, corruption, abuse, lies, manipulations, incompetence—literally all the worst aspects of humanity. The authorities decided—from the beginning—that the murder itself was part of some twisted sex game led by the beautiful American. Given the evidence, honestly, there is barely even a sliver of possibility that Knox had any knowledge of this unspeakable crime let alone committed it. More likely, she found herself in a world of misogyny and stereotypes—superstition and fears. She was judged because she was not distraught enough, because she did cartwheels and made out with her boyfriend in and around the courthouse, but truth be told, she wasn’t great friends with the victim and she felt as an innocent should feel—INNOCENT.
There is literally zero evidence linking Knox to the crime and yet she was convicted whereas in OUR country—with the supposed greatest legal system in the world—we let a girl go who didn’t even notify the police for a month after her toddler went missing.
The story is fascinating and heartbreaking and truly eye-opening. The author lived in Perugia, Italy…attended the trial, and interviewed both defendants and defendants’ families.
Shockingly, there are more than 8 books already written about this case and the ensuing trial—this one is already considered the definitive account. Burleigh has even been compared to Vincent Bugliosi who wrote Helter Skelter about the Manson murders—one of the greatest true crime novels of our time.
It’s not an easy read, but it happened. It’s real. It’s scary stuff.
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