Italo Calvino: Invisible Cities

By Martina - Saturday, February 11, 2017

I've decided to begin my Italian Culture series with an author that is praised all over the world. A safe start, if you want. I could have picked a brand new celebrity but I thought I should start big and then proceed to alternate classics and recent things, just to prove that my knowledge goes a bit further than the latest talent show's winner and to describe as many sides of the Italian culture as possible.

Italo Calvino is a journalist and writer. He was born in 1923 and died in 1985. 

His name is really well known, there are streets and schools named after him and most students read one or more of his books. The most famous titles (as far as I know) are The Path to the Nest of Spiders, The Cloven Viscount, The Baron in the Trees, Marcovaldo and If on a winter's night a traveler.

I've personally read three of his books, and I really like his style and stories, both the more lyrical ones and the historical ones. I wouldn't mind reading the others and I think I'd start from If on a winter's night a traveler because I love the title and the plot sounds interesting.

However, the book I wanted to talk about here is one that's a little less known, at least among the people that I know. It's called Invisible Cities. I read it about four years ago, because I was writing my high school "tesina" (short essay/dissertation) about imaginary cities. My main topic was John Green's Paper Towns, but a teacher suggested me to read Calvino's book as well.

I tuoi passi rincorrono ciò che non si trova fuori dagli occhi ma dentro
Your footsteps follow not what is outside the eyes, but what is within 
(William Weaver's translation, not mine)

I really really loved it, and I still have it on my bookshelf. It survived all of my decluttering sessions and I still remember it quite well after all this time. 

The main plot revolves around Marco Polo and his explorations of Asia and the whole book is supposed to represent a conversation between Polo and Kublai Kahn, but the book itself sounds more like poetry than like the novel it's supposed to be.

Cities also believe they are the work of the mind or of chance, but neither the one nor the other suffices to hold up their walls. You take delight not in a city's seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.    (William Weaver's translation, not mine)

There are nine parts and each of them contains a narrative bit followed by a series of descriptions of the fictitious cities Marco Polo has visited, and all of them have a different name and different, specific features that describe them. All of them make you think about something: death, dreams, travelling, the past, and so on.

I've only read the Italian version, not the translated one, but I know that this book (and Calvino in general) is pretty famous around the world therefore I believe that the English version should be good enough to let you appreciate the meaning of this novel and all of its shades.

The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.    (William Weaver's translation, not mine)

Have you ever read anything written by Calvino? Also, what's your favourite classic novel?

Marti xx

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