Italo Calvino is a genius and one must read everything he has ever written. I first got to know of him when I was in college and a friend was reading The Path to the Spiders’ Nest without really understanding it. I think he reread it and loved it. That’s how I heard of Calvino. My first book of his was “If on a winter’s night a traveler” and I fell in love with his writing. I knew I had to read more, and more by him. My job at Crossword bookstore in 1999 as an intern changed that. I was all of sixteen and knew that I just had to read everything written by him. I then chanced on “Invisible Cities” and loved it. It was kind of the first magic realism novel I read and I wanted more from that genre (till of course Rushdie killed it for me, but may be more about that at a later time).
“Invisible Cities” is not an easy book to read. It demands a lot of time and attention for a 165 page book. You might think it will be easy, but trust me, it won’t be. This should not deter you from reading it though. What is the book about? Well, here is the premise: Marco Polo and Kublai Khan talk about cities – more so Polo and he describes cities he has been to, to Khan, and surprisingly all of them seem the same and do not. Each city is magical and has its own aura and yet they all feel the same – they all seem to be Venice. The design of cities might be different, also the essence and what it is made of, but inherently they are all the same and how the entire book then converges with Polo and Khan’s dialogues is something you must read and find out.
There is the study of humans in this book, followed by the study of cities and how we inhabit them and sometimes how they inhabit us and last of all, I thought it was about fantastical tales – of how far imagination takes us and intermingle then with the philosophy of life and what happens next. Calvino’s style of writing is different and inimitable. I cannot think of any writer who has succeeded writing like him. You just cannot. Calvino’s imagination pervades every page of the book and moves on then to inhabit every city. Of course the book is poetic – the description is wondrous and each account is a metaphor for memory and loss.
Calvino writes like a spy in the darkness – he uncovers what is hidden, and will force it to sneak in your consciousness. I thought I almost knew how to classify this book but then I didn’t and I did something: Not trying to pigeonhole it and go with the flow. “Invisible Cities” as a book is a rarity and the translation is so beautiful that it makes you want to read the Italian edition.