I met Italo Calvino many years ago when I was still living in Ankara, Turkey and when I was constantly going to and from Istanbul and therefore looking for a book to read on the bus. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller was in the new books aisle. The season was winter, and I was a traveller, so I took it without thinking twice — I’m so glad I did. Come to think of it, it was one of those best decisions I’ve ever made.
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller and books in a book
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller is a perfect book in every aspect. I couldn’t leave it aside for a moment even though I was confused with all the different narrators. And the narration was jumping from story to story. After reading the first few pages of the books in the novel (yes, there are books), I went mad. I wanted to read them all!
But then I calmed myself romanticising the idea of finding them all one day. After finishing the book, I took a deep breath and remained unresponsive for a long time. This book is nothing like I read before but still, it was familiar somehow. It was strange and surely unforgettable. ReadIf on a Winter’s Night a Traveller on a bus on a train if you can, you’ll love it!
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller is a marvel of ingenuity, an experimental text that looks longingly back to the great age of narration—”when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded.” Italo Calvino’s novel is in one sense a comedy in which the two protagonists, the Reader and the Other Reader, ultimately end up married, having almost finished If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. In another, it is a tragedy, a reflection on the difficulties of writing and the solitary nature of reading. The Reader buys a fashionable new book, which opens with an exhortation: “Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade.”
Alas, after 30 or so pages, he discovers that his copy is corrupted, and consists of nothing but the first section, over and over. Returning to the bookshop, he discovers the volume, which he thought was by Calvino, is actually by the Polish writer Bazakbal. Given the choice between the two, he goes for the Pole, as does the Other Reader, Ludmilla. But this copy turns out to be by yet another writer, as does the next, and the next.
The real Calvino intersperses 10 different pastiches—stories of menace, spies, mystery, premonition—with explorations of how and why we choose to read, make meanings, and get our bearings or fail to. Meanwhile, the Reader and Ludmilla try to reach, and read, each other. If on a Winter’s Night is dazzling, vertiginous, and deeply romantic. “What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from measurable time and space.”
Italo Calvino, (born October 15, 1923, Santiago de las Vegas, Cuba—died September 19, 1985, Siena, Italy), Italian journalist, short-story writer, and novelist whose whimsical and imaginative fables made him one of the most important Italian fiction writers in the 20th century.If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller is his most popular book.
Calvino left Cuba for Italy in his youth. He joined the Italian Resistance during World War II and after the war settled in Turin, obtaining his degree in literature while working for the Communist periodical L’Unità and for the publishing house of Einaudi. From 1959 to 1966 he edited, with Elio Vittorini, the left-wing magazine Il Menabò di Letteratura.
Two of Calvino’s first fictional works were inspired by his participation in the Italian Resistance: the Neorealistic novel Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (1947; The Path to the Nest of Spiders), which views the Resistance through the experiences of an adolescent as helpless in the midst of events as the adults around him; and the collection of stories entitled Ultimo viene il corvo (1949; Adam, One Afternoon, and Other Stories).
Calvino turned decisively to fantasy and allegory in the 1950s, producing the three fantastic tales that brought him international acclaim. The first of these fantasies, Il visconte dimezzato (1952; “The Cloven Viscount,” in The Nonexistent Knight & the Cloven Viscount), is an allegorical story of a man split in two—a good half and an evil half—by a cannon shot; he becomes whole through his love for a peasant girl.
The second and most highly praised fantasy, Il barone rampante (1957; The Baron in the Trees), is a whimsical tale of a 19th-century nobleman who one day decides to climb into the trees and who never sets foot on the ground again. From the trees he does, however, participate fully in the affairs of his fellow men below. The tale wittily explores the interaction and tension between reality and imagination. The third fantasy, Il cavaliere inesistente (1959; “The Nonexistent Knight,” in The Nonexistent Knight & the Cloven Viscount), is a mock epic chivalric tale.
Among Calvino’s later works of fantasy is Le cosmicomiche (1965; Cosmicomics), a stream-of-consciousness narrative that treats the creation and evolution of the universe. In the later novels Le città invisibili (1972; Invisible Cities), Il castello dei destini incrociate (1973; The Castle of Crossed Destinies), and Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore (1979; If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller), Calvino uses playfully innovative structures and shifting viewpoints in order to examine the nature of chance, coincidence, and change.
Una pietra sopra: discorsi di letteratura e società (1980; The Uses of Literature) is a collection of essays Calvino wrote for Il Menabò. Lettere: 1940–1985 (2000) was a compilation of his correspondence; a selection of the letters in that volume were published in English as Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941–1985 (2013).If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller is his most popular book.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: