0151436894 If  on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. New York. 1981. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Translated From The Italian By William Weaver. 260 pages. Jacket design by Rubin Pfeffer Jacket photograph by Benn Mitchell. 0151436894.




   Beguiling and frustrating, IF ON A WINTER'S NIGHT A TRAVELER draws the reader in with each chapter, and at just the right moment Italo Calvino has a surprise for you. 'The catalogue of forms is endless. ' This quotation from Calvino's INVISIBLE CITIES applies equally to his imaginative flights in the present novel, his first In many years. Far from being a dead form, the novel here is shown as capable of endless mutations. IF ON A WINTER'S NIGHT A TRAVELER turns out to be not one novel but ten, each with a different plot, author, ambiance, style; each breaks off with the first chapter, at a moment of suspense. A labyrinth, no less, in which two readers, male and female, pursue the story lines that Intrigue them. Thus, 'If on a winter's night a traveler' by Italo Calvlno gets Inextricably mixed up with 'Outside the town of Malbork,' a work of unquestionably Polish origin, redolent of somewhat carbonized onions. As the book branches out into known and unknown literatures, including a translation from an extinct language, the author, not without malice, rings the changes of contemporary literature with virtuoso versatility. The two be- wildered readers tie their own knots and end up in a king-size bed for parallel readings. They are the true heroes of the tale: for what would writing be without responsive readers? Would it be at all?




Calvino Italo Italo Calvino (October 15, 1923 - September 19, 1985) was an Italian journalist and writer of short stories and novels. His best known works include the Our Ancestors trilogy (1952-1959), the Cosmicomics collection of short stories (1965), and the novels Invisible Cities (1972) and If on a winter’s night a traveler (1979). Italo Calvino was born in Santiago de Las Vegas, Cuba, to botanists Mario Calvino and Evelina Mameli. (His brother was Floriano Calvino, a famous geologist.) The family soon moved to its homeland Italy, where Italo lived most of his life. They moved to Sanremo, on the Italian Riviera, where his father had come from (his mother came from Sardinia). The young Italo became a member of the Avanguardisti (a fascist youth organization in which membership was practically compulsory) with whom he took part in the occupation of the French Riviera. He suffered some religious troubles, as his relatives were openly atheist in a largely Catholic country. He was sent to attend a Waldensian private school. Calvino met Eugenio Scalfari (later a politician and the founder of the major Italian newspaper La Repubblica), with whom he would remain a close friend. In 1941 Calvino moved to Turin, after a long hesitation over living there or in Milan. He often humorously described this choice, and used to describe Turin as ‘a city that is serious but sad.’ In 1943 he joined the Partisans in the Italian Resistance, in the Garibaldi brigade, with the battlename of Santiago. With Scalfari he created the MUL (liberal universitarian movement). Calvino then entered the (still clandestine) Italian Communist Party. Calvino graduated from the University of Turin in 1947 with a thesis on Joseph Conrad and started working with the official Communist paper L’Unità. He also had a short relationship with the Einaudi publishing house, which put him in contact with Norberto Bobbio, Natalia Ginzburg, Cesare Pavese and Elio Vittorini. With Vittorini he wrote for the weekly Il Politecnico (a cultural magazine associated with the university). Calvino then left Einaudi to work mainly with L’Unità and the newborn communist weekly political magazine Rinascita. He worked again for the Einaudi house from 1950, responsible for the literary volumes. The following year, presumably to advance in the communist party, he visited the Soviet Union. The reports and correspondence he produced from this visit were later collected and earned him literary prizes. In 1952 Calvino wrote with Giorgio Bassani for Botteghe Oscure, a magazine named after the popular name of the party’s head-offices. He also worked for Il Contemporaneo, a Marxist weekly. From 1955 to 1958 Calvino had an affair with the actress Elsa de’ Giorgi, an older and married woman. Calvino wrote hundreds of love letters to her. Excerpts were published by Corriere della Sera in 2004, causing some controversy. In 1957, disillusioned by the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, Calvino left the Italian Communist party. His letter of resignation was published in L’Unità and soon became famous. He found new outlets for his periodic writings in the magazines Passato e Presente and Italia Domani. Together with Vittorini he became a co-editor of Il Menabò di letteratura, a position which Calvino held for many years. Despite severe restrictions in the US against foreigners holding communist views, Calvino was allowed to visit the United States, where he stayed six months from 1959 to 1960 (four of which he spent in New York), after an invitation by the Ford Foundation. Calvino was particularly impressed by the ‘New World’: ‘Naturally I visited the South and also California, but I always felt a New Yorker. My city is New York.’ The letters he wrote to Einaudi describing this visit to the United States, were first published as ‘American Diary 1959-1960’ in the book Hermit in Paris in 2003. In 1962 Calvino met the Argentinian translator Esther Judith Singer (Chichita) and married her in 1964 in Havana, during a trip in which he visited his birthplace and met Ernesto Che Guevara. This encounter later led him to contribute an article on the 15th of October 1967, a few days after the death of Guevara, describing the lasting impression Guevara made on him. Back in Italy, and once again working for Einaudi, Calvino started publishing some of his cosmicomics in Il Caffè, a literary magazine. Vittorini’s death in 1966 influenced Calvino greatly. He went through what he called an ‘intellectual depression’, which the writer himself described as an important passage in his life: ‘. I ceased to be young. Perhaps it’s a metabolic process, something that comes with age, I’d been young for a long time, perhaps too long, suddenly I felt that I had to begin my old age, yes, old age, perhaps with the hope of prolonging it by beginning it early’. He then started to frequent Paris, where he was nicknamed L’ironique amusé. Here he soon joined some important circles like the Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) and met Roland Barthes and Claude Lévi-Strauss, in the fermenting atmosphere that was going to evolve into 1968’s cultural revolution (the French May). During his French experience, he also became fond of Raymond Queneau’s works, which would influence his later production. Calvino had more intense contacts with the academic world, with notable experiences at the Sorbonne (with Barthes) and at Urbino’s university. His interests included classical studies: Honoré de Balzac, Ludovico Ariosto, Dante, Ignacio de Loyola, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Cyrano de Bergérac, and Giacomo Leopardi. At the same time, not without surprising Italian intellectual circles, Calvino wrote novels for Playboy’s Italian edition (1973). He became a regular contributor to the important Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. In 1975 Calvino was made Honorary Member of the American Academy, and the following year he was awarded the Austrian State Literary Prize for European literature. He visited Japan and Mexico and gave lectures in several American towns. In 1981 he was awarded the prestigious French Légion d’Honneur. During the summer of 1985, Calvino prepared some notes for a series of lectures to be delivered at Harvard University in the fall. However, on 6 September, he was admitted to the ancient hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena, where he died during the night between the 18 and 19 September of a cerebral hemorrhage. His lecture notes were published posthumously as Six Memos for the Next Millennium in 1988. His style is not easily classified; much of his writing has an air of the fantastic reminiscent of fairy tales (Our Ancestors, Cosmicomics), although sometimes his writing is more ‘realistic’ and in the scenic mode of observation (Difficult Loves, for example). Some of his writing has been called ‘postmodern’, reflecting on literature and the act of reading, while some has been labeled ‘magical realist’, others fables, others simply ‘modern’. Twelve years before his death, he was invited to and joined the Oulipo group of experimental writers. He wrote: ‘My working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.’.


Zeno's Picks


The Neglected Books Page

21 November 2019

www.NeglectedBooks.com: Where forgotten books are remembered
  • Reader Recommendation: Mr. and Mrs. Cugat, by Isabel Scott Rorick (1940)
    Peter Laurence writes to recommend Isabel Scott Rorick’s Mr. and Mrs. Cugat (1940), a collection of comic sketches about Mr. and Mrs. George Cugat, a happily if comically married couple that was a huge best-seller in its time. For a book about a couple with no children it managed to spawn an impressive number of... Read more
  • Cats in the Isle of Man, by Daisy Fellowes (1929)
    CAUTION! Any person or persons who attempt to recognize their own sordid idiosyncracies in any character in this book are warned that anything they say will be used in evidence against them. This disclaimer may be the best thing in this book. On the other hand, my knowledge of the who’s who (or who slept... Read more
  • Who Owned This Book? Elizabeth Seeber
    I often wonder about the people whose names I find written in copies of old books I buy, but I rarely do anything more. But I was so impressed by G. E. Trevelyan’s Appius and Virginia when I reread it recently that I began to wonder who would have bought it. My copy — the... Read more
  • Trance by Appointment, by G. E. Trevelyan (1939)
    I’m not sure what the point of this post is. There are seven copies of this book worldwide listed in WorldCat.org. There are none available for sale. If you want to read it, your best bet is to get a copy of amateurish scan I made of the British Library’s copy. There are few enough... Read more
  • Mrs. Rawleigh and Mrs. Paradock, by Neil Bell (1958)
    Let me admit at the start that I bought this book because of its cover. Let me also admit that I only finished it because of what I paid for it. In a recent class, we discussed Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey, and I raised a question I’ve asked in every class where I’ve studied Homer:... Read more
  • Venus on Wheels, by Maurice Dekobra (1930) — For #1930Club
    I decided to abuse the #1930club, this round of the semi-annual reading club organized by Kaggsy and Simon Thomas’, as an excuse to read something by Maurice Dekobra. Dekobra was hugely successful — successful not just in his native France but among readers all over the world. He came up with his pen-name after seeing... Read more
  • Fame, by May Sinclair (1930) – From #1930Club
    As a change of pace, I thought I would join Kaggsy and Simon Thomas’ semiannual reading club, this time focused on the books of 1930 (#1930club). To make things simple, I headed to The Times Literary Supplement archive and simply looked for the first work of fiction reviewed in the first issue of 1930. There,... Read more
  • The Memoirs of a Ghost, by G. W. Stonier (1947)
    One of the pleasures of being back in college after almost forty years is having access to a good university library. I first developed my love of neglected books from wandering through the stacks of Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington in Seattle, not looking for anything in particular, pulling down whatever seemed interesting.... Read more
  • On Wooden Wings, by Rosemary Tonks (1948)
    Out of a perhaps questionable quest for completeness, I have been working my way Rosemary Tonks’ oeuvre. Tonks was perhaps one of the better-known of “forgotten” writers — “The Poet Who Vanished,” as a 2009 BBC Radio 4 documentary was titled. As John Hartley Williams wrote in a 1996 piece for The Poetry Review, “She... Read more
  • Life Comes to Seathorpe, by Neil Bell (1946)
    I’m not sure how I managed to consider myself an expert in neglected books and remain ignorant of Neil Bell and his massive oeuvre until recently, but it was only the sight of the striking cover of one of his posthumous story collections, The Ninth Earl of Whitby in a local bookstore that led me... Read more
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