Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985

Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985

by Italo Calvino
     
 

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"Calvino liked to present an inscrutable face to the world, but this literally marvelous collection of letters shows him to have been gregarious, puckish, funny, combative, and, above all, wonderful company, and opens a new and fascinating perspective on one of the master writers of the twentieth century. Michael Wood and Martin McLaughlin have done Calvino, and us

Overview

"Calvino liked to present an inscrutable face to the world, but this literally marvelous collection of letters shows him to have been gregarious, puckish, funny, combative, and, above all, wonderful company, and opens a new and fascinating perspective on one of the master writers of the twentieth century. Michael Wood and Martin McLaughlin have done Calvino, and us, a great and loving service."—John Banville, author of Ancient Light

"Italo Calvino was one of the most sparkling literary inventors and innovators of the twentieth century. He was also a highly astute mediator of the work of others and a pellucid purveyor of a subtly elaborated idea of literature. To have a generous selection of his letters in English, translated with great verve, represents a major addition to our knowledge of his work, offering countless precious glimpses of the gears and levers that operate the 'literature machine.'"—Robert S. C. Gordon, University of Cambridge

"These letters are invaluable. They are an important source for understanding the intellectual and historical context of Italo Calvino's writing and thought, and his relations with other writers. They are filled with irony and insights on a vast variety of interesting literary and cultural topics. And they are beautifully written—a literary achievement in themselves. This translation is a real achievement as well."—Lucia Re, University of California, Los Angeles

"This is an excellent translation."—Andrea Ciccarelli, Indiana University

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Acclaimed Italian author Calvino (1923–1985) is best known for his fables, stories, and novels, including If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Yet he was also a book editor, journalist, and WWII Resistance fighter. This first English translation of 650 letters spanning the period from the war years until his death include Calvino’s correspondence with writers Umberto Eco, Gore Vidal, Elsa Morante, and Primo Levi; directors Michelangelo Antonioni and Pier Paolo Pasolini; composer Luciano Berio; as well as mentors, critics, and others. Elegant and generous, the letters reveal Calvino’s insights on authorship (“the author... exists only in his works; outside them... he is an everyday guy, who is very careful not to ‘identify’ with an ideal character”), literature (“Romanticism, that great river of paradisiacal incontinence...”); the role of the critic; the influence of Roland Barthes; and tarot cards and comic strips on his work. The son of scientists, Calvino first studied agronomy, and his letters reflect these and other biographical details—his continuing sympathy toward the Italian Communist Party despite his defection in 1957, his move to Paris in 1967, and his comments on American, French, and Italian literature and society. In a letter to a journalist friend, he says that he’d like to teach “a way of looking... a way of being in the world.” These letters show he succeeded. (Apr.)
New York Review of Books - Jonathan Galassi
[C]onsistently absorbing and suggestive. . . . [T]he chronicle not only of Calvino's intellectual development but of postwar Italy's. . . . The letters in this book deal with great subtlety, sophistication, and wit, and occasionally even a certain cynicism, with challenges that might have overburdened a less mercurial, multifarious, essentially sane spirit.
Prospect - Vivian Gornick
Italo Calvino's letters . . . provide . . . pleasure and surprise. . . . In them he shines as an editor of obvious brilliance and a writer of lavish gratitude towards those who appreciate his work.
Guardian - Ian Thomson
Superbly translated by Martin McLaughlin, these letters place Calvino in the larger frame of 20th century Italy and provide a showcase for his refined and civil voice. . . . Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 is a charming addition to the Planet Calvino—a place cluttered with sphinxes, chimeras, knights, spaceships and viscounts both cloven and whole.
Literary Review - Robert Gordon
[I]mpeccably translated and annotated.
Brain Pickings - Maria Popova
It is impossible to overstate just how sublime and richly insightful Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 is in its entirety.
Wall Street Journal - Lawrence Norfolk
The image of Calvino as postmodernism's light-footed prince follows easily. But, behind that image, who was Calvino? The publication of a considerable selection of Calvino's letters affords an opportunity, or many opportunities, to ask that question anew.
Barnes and Noble Review - Adam Kirsch
The general reader will come away from the Letters admiring this skeptical, loyal, generous, industrious man, who gave the life of letters the dignity it so often seems to lack.
Library Journal
Calvino (1923–1985) is recognized as one of the most inventive storytellers of the 20th century. His celebrated fiction includes Invisible Cities; If On a Winter's Night a Traveler; Marcovaldo; and Mr. Palomar. This collection, the first in English, gives voice and witness to a vibrant mind intensely engaged in the literary and political future of postwar Italy and the history of ideas. Selected and translated from the Italian edition, the letters date from Calvino's late adolescence to months before his death. His prodigious reading and intellectual vigilance is evident in his correspondence with fellow writers, e.g., Cesare Pavese, Elio Vittorini, Primo Levi, Leonardo Sciascia, Umberto Eco, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and a host of Italian and foreign commentators. Highlights include Calvino's lengthy meditations on the role of the author in Italy's political and cultural sphere, which were often published in newspapers and magazines; his letter relinquishing membership in the Italian Communist Party is compelling. McLaughlin's (Italian studies, Univ. of Oxford) translation is award-winning; the extensive notes provide a model of masterful research. VERDICT Irresistible for Calvino readers.—Lonnie Weatherby, McGill Univ. Lib., Montreal
From the Publisher
One of The Guardian Best Books of 2013, chosen by Pankaj Mishra

Selected for the SFG Gift Guide 2013

"[C]onsistently absorbing and suggestive. . . . [T]he chronicle not only of Calvino's intellectual development but of postwar Italy's. . . . The letters in this book deal with great subtlety, sophistication, and wit, and occasionally even a certain cynicism, with challenges that might have overburdened a less mercurial, multifarious, essentially sane spirit."—Jonathan Galassi, New York Review of Books

"The image of Calvino as postmodernism's light-footed prince follows easily. But, behind that image, who was Calvino? The publication of a considerable selection of Calvino's letters affords an opportunity, or many opportunities, to ask that question anew."—Lawrence Norfolk, Wall Street Journal

"[T]here is no writer alive who resembles . . . Calvino. So the appearance of a selection of Calvino's letters in English is a moment of happiness. . . . [T]hese letters offer a gorgeous portrait of Calvino in the midst of his own productivity: as an editor, a reader, a critic, an inventor of new literary forms. And they allow the reader to investigate the complicated background from which those strange forms emerged."—Adam Thirlwell, New Republic

"This collection, the first in English, gives voice and witness to a vibrant mind intensely engaged in the literary and political future of postwar Italy and the history of ideas. . . . McLaughlin's translation is award-winning; the extensive notes provide a model of masterful research. Irresistible for Calvino readers."Library Journal

"Italo Calvino's letters . . . provide . . . pleasure and surprise. . . . In them he shines as an editor of obvious brilliance and a writer of lavish gratitude towards those who appreciate his work."—Vivian Gornick, Prospect

"Superbly translated by Martin McLaughlin, these letters place Calvino in the larger frame of 20th century Italy and provide a showcase for his refined and civil voice. . . . Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 is a charming addition to the Planet Calvino—a place cluttered with sphinxes, chimeras, knights, spaceships and viscounts both cloven and whole."—Ian Thomson, Guardian

"[I]mpeccably translated and annotated."—Robert Gordon, Literary Review

"[A]ltogether fantastic. . . . Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 is indispensable in its entirety, a treasure trove of timeless insight on literature and life."—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

"The general reader will come away from the Letters admiring this skeptical, loyal, generous, industrious man, who gave the life of letters the dignity it so often seems to lack."—Adam Kirsch, Barnes and Noble Review

"It is impossible to overstate just how sublime and richly insightful Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 is in its entirety."—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

"This selection of letter offers intellectual riches and access to the workings of a wholly original mind. The presentation of the book is exemplary, with copious, precise notes by Martin McLaughlin identifying not only the recipients of the letters but also the background to the topics under discussion. McLaughlin's translation is fluent and elegant throughout."—Joseph Farrell, The (Scotland) Herald

"[F]ascinating. . . . A vastly entertaining collection, meticulously edited and annotated."—Peter Sirr, Irish Times

"As the letters chart Calvino's journey from postwar communist concerns with faithfulness to history to his destiny as an imaginative maestro more concerned with being faithful to the universe, the text both instructs and entertains."—Gregory Day, WA Today

"[C]ompelling."—Tiffany Nichols, City Book Review

"[D]eeply rewarding."—Lisa Hilton, Standpoint

"[I]t is provides a far greater insight into the life of Italo Calvino than an ordinary biography would have done."Artswrap

"Michael Wood has made a studious selection of Calvino's letters and a provides an insightful introduction that frames his selection in the larger tableau of Calvino's life and work. Ample notes further clarify many of the personal and historical details as well as the Italian idioms that appear throughout these letters. It is a book worthy of both study and appreciation."—Stephan Delbos, BODY

"Selected and introduced by Michael Wood, translated by Martin McLaughlin, the collection is a mesmerizing peek inside the thinking of the great modern fabulist. . . . Much of [Calvino's] letter writing seems to be an exercise in clear expression. . . . He is a writer as scrupulous and demanding on himself as he is on the world around him. Calvino took the role of public intellectual very seriously, convinced in his job to explore the fringes of thought. . . . A writer of such great control and refreshing playfulness, Calvino reveals how serious and unsure his journey was in this collection of candid letters."—Seth Satterlee, PWxyz (Publishers Weekly blog)

"There is much to admire in McLaughlin's translation of the letters, not least his sensitivity to Calvino's variations of style and tone, from the ironic to the pedantic. The collection also provides new texts in English that provide valuable insights into the germination of Calvino's best-known works. It captures the writer's generosity and integrity and, above all, his deep and abiding passion for literary culture."—Rita Wilson, Sydney Review of Books

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780691139456
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
06/17/2013
Pages:
632
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Michael Wood is professor of English and comparative literature at Princeton University. His most recent books are Yeats and Violence and A Very Short Introduction to Film. Martin McLaughlin is the Agnelli-Serena Professor of Italian Studies at the University of Oxford. He is the translator of Calvino's Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings, Into the War, and Why Read the Classics?, which won the John Florio Prize for translation. He is also cotranslator of Calvino's The Complete Cosmicomics.

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