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Posted June 15, 2011
INVISIBLE CITIES by Italo Calvino ???
I so wanted to love this book, but it took me over two months just to finish it despite its short length. That is not to say it was all bad! Calvino's structure is that of Marco Polo recounting for Kublai Khan brief vignettes about various cities and towns through which he has supposedly passed on his travels. I couldn't help but marvel at the sheer imaginative power it must have taken to create so many places, and I give props to Calvino for that. In addition, his prose is wonderful, with paragraphs frequently taking unexpected twists at the end. Many sentient points about human nature-points which transcend time and culture-were subtly inserted, and lent the book an added soulful element.
Two things gave me grief. First, despite the marvelous variety of locales, an entire book of city descriptions grew redundant very quickly. The author's creativity and prose carried me happily through about the first six or eight cities, and then the subject matter began to flag.
The second aspect was the magical realism employed in the book. Mention of objects such as sky scrapers, carousel horses, and underground trains, which did not exist in the era in which the book was written, offended the historian in me. Rather than fantastical, they just felt like poor fact checking to me. By the end of the book, entire modern cities, in countries yet to be discovered, began appearing in Kublai Khan's atlas; it all rang very inconceivable to me. I have decided that books in which characters travel back in time and bring modern knowledge and objects with them delight me, but books in which knowledge of technology and modern devices appear long before their advent simply feel jarring.
Had I read one of these pieces, individually, in a magazine or blog, I would likely have been full of compliments. For the most part, the book simply did not work for me because it was too much of the same.
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Posted March 13, 2010
I really wanted to love this book. When I started reading it I wanted to just devour it and be able to declare Italo Calvino one of my favorite authors. When I read the synopsis' for his novels I find myself intrigued by them all. Unfortunately, this book is a bit of a let down. Calvino was a smart author. Perhaps too smart. I'm not a stranger to metaphysical concepts but at times I got the distinct impression that the only person who knew what Calvino was talking about was Calvino. I felt like the actual meat of the book was found in the segments featuring Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, which were few and took up about twenty pages total. I will also mention that Calvino's writing style is very soft. He is a talented writer, but his way with words had a tendency to put me to sleep, even during two page chapters. Coming from someone who enjoys classic literature, that is really saying something. Though I think I will try to read perhaps one more of his books, I can safely say that Italo Calvino is not my new favorite author. Even Gore Vidal couldn't describe this book (though I have a feeling he had no idea what happened but just didn't want to admit it). If you're feeling extremely experimental and risky, then by all means give this book a shot, but if your mind is prone to wandering while reading then perhaps you should read something else.
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Posted December 19, 2010
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