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Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories

Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories

4.4 5
by Italo Calvino, Tim Parks (Translator)

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For the first time in paperback—a volume of thirty-seven diabolically inventive stories, fables, and "impossible interviews" from one of the great fantasists of the 20th century, displaying the full breadth of his vision and wit. Written between 1943 and 1984 and masterfully translated by Tim Parks, the fictions in Numbers in the Dark display all of


For the first time in paperback—a volume of thirty-seven diabolically inventive stories, fables, and "impossible interviews" from one of the great fantasists of the 20th century, displaying the full breadth of his vision and wit. Written between 1943 and 1984 and masterfully translated by Tim Parks, the fictions in Numbers in the Dark display all of Calvino's dazzling gifts: whimsy and horror, exuberance of style, and a cheerful grasp of the absurdities of the human condition.

Editorial Reviews


In "The Flash," one of the short fictions collected in Numbers in the Dark, the narrator steps into the street in the middle of a crowd and suddenly discovers that "I understood nothing...I didn't understand the reasons for things or for people, it was all senseless, absurd. And I started to laugh." Everyday reality reasserts itself, but the narrator finds himself longing for another visitation, to once again "grasp that other knowledge, found and lost in an instant." His experience parallels the effect Italo Calvino's fiction can have on the reader: without warning other meanings, other forces, are revealed under the surface of our world.

In such distinctive works as The Baron in the Trees, Invisible Cities, and The Castle of Crossed Destinies, Mr. Calvino unearthed and celebrated the uncanny, the remarkable, the mysterious. Numbers in the Dark gathers a variety of miscellaneous works—fables, short stories, dramatic monologues, written between 1943, when Calvino was l9, and 1984. (Mr. Calvino died in 1985.) One of the surprises of the collection is that Mr. Calvino's distinctive style (droll, straightforward, exact in its descriptions) developed very early. Another is that much of his earliest work was overtly political, albeit a politics cloaked in fables.

Some of the pieces read like works dashed off and never picked up again (indeed, "The Queen's Necklace" is composed of the first pages of a novel Mr. Calvino began in the 1950s and put aside). Several of the short stories read like early versions of ideas Mr. Calvino would return to in his later, famous works of fiction. The pleasures here are the pleasures to be found in his 17 other volumes: an encounter with a profoundly original, humane, playful imagination, looking at the world with a fresh eye, inviting us to join him in a search for that nourishing "other knowledge" that lies somewhere just under the surface of the mundane world. Numbers in the Dark is a consistently entertaining and moving collection and a necessary addition to any Calvino admirer's shelf.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A collection of previously uncollected stories from the late Italian fabulist. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Calvino is best known as a fabulist, and indeed his writing, nearly always short forms or broken up episodically in the case of his novels Mr. Palomar (LJ 9/15/85) and Invisible Cities (1978), justifies itself not by character or plot but in moral and meaning. As a teenager in 1943, Calvino wrote, "One writes fables in periods of oppression. When a man cannot give clear form to his thinking he expresses it in fables." The early pieces, written during the last days of fascism in Italy, reflect a concern with the survival of human relationships in a time of overweening government and takes a bitter delight in the unpracticed exercise of authority by ordinary men. Later stories reflect on the conflict between imagination and repetitive industrial labor. Both themes are picked up in "The Workshop Hen," about a man who squeezes in two-word thoughts about his son's engagement in between the careful manipulations of the four heavy machines he is charged with operating. At the same time he is plotting the abduction of the chicken kept by the security man in charge of maintaining factory production quotas. Later works include an interview with the sole surviving Neaderthal and a chat with Henry Ford about his invasive business practices. These stories reward the patient reader with wisdom, humor, and insight. Highly recommended for collections of literary fiction.—Adam Mazmanian, "Library Journal"
School Library Journal
This fine collection contains an interesting variety of selections, from parable to polemic, with complex and challenging characters, situations, and themes. Some of the older stories have allusions that may not be apparent to [the reader], but the universal ideas are expressed in a new and clever way. Calvino presents a different world view, expressed with wit, humor, irony, and wicked perception. Students who discover this book will be rewarded and tempted to read other works by this master storyteller. Margaret Hecklinger, R. E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
From the Publisher

"The curious quirks that would shape Calvino's eccentric orbit can be described, along with the exuberant talent and sense of magic that would make that orbit a flaming one." -Los Angeles Times

"With seventeen books in print, Italo Calvino enjoys a privilege that few foreign writers ever achieve here: virtually all his works can be read in English... Calvino's ready availability is of course a sign (and support) of his canonical status in world literature, the capacity of his fiction to be significant in many different cultures... Tim Park's translation is perfectly in tune with the various dialects and discourses that Calvino assimilated during his career. By the '80s his supple Italian was tossing off polylingual arpeggios, technical jargons, nonce words... More than accurate and readable [Park's] version is inventive." -The New York Times Book Review

"Numbers in the Dark is a glorious grab bag... with gems from every phase in Calvino's career." - San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle Book Review

"Warmly and expertly translated by Tim Parks, a gifted writer himself." -Esquire

Product Details

Viking Penguin
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.70(d)

What People are Saying About This

John Updike
Like Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Italo Calvino dreams perfect dreams for us.
—(John Updike)
Salman Rushdie
Calvino possesses the power of seeing into the deepest recesses of human minds and then bringing their dreams back to life.
—(Salman Rushdie)

Meet the Author

Italo Calvino (1923-1985) was born in Cuba, and grew up in San Remo, Italy.  He was a member of the partisan movement during the German occupation of northern Italy in World War II.  The novel that resulted from that experience, published in English as The Path to the Nest of Spiders, won widespread acclaim.  His other works of fiction include the Baron in the Trees, The Castle of Crossed Destinies, Cosmicomics, Difficult Loves, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Invisible Cities, Marcovaldo, Mr. Palomar, The Nonexistent Knight & The Cloven Viscount, t zero, Under the Jaguar Sun, and The Watcher and Other Stories. His works of nonfiction include Six Memos for the Next Millennium and The Uses of Literature, collections of literary essays, and the anthology Italian Folktales.

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Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
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While not every story works (certain stories feel more like didactic interpretations of historical figures, most notably his stories about Montezuma and others) it is his more pristinely surreal stories that play around with narrative styles and the nature of reading and writing which most fully transport the reader into a world of playful mirth and ecstatic imaginations, that make this posthumous collection worth perusing. The best of the collection (including Cassanova's nostalgic reveries over past lovers) trigger memories of Calvino's masterpiece 'If on a Winter's Night a Traveller'. Conjuring up the ghosts of Borges and Lorca (as the book jacket implies) with the simplicity of a Magritte painting, Calvino proved himself the master of the medium. Post modern, yet never distancing or elitist in his musings, Calvino proved to be both accessible and erudite, without ever ostracizing his audience. A wonderful introduction to the world of Italo Calvino, but not the be all and end all of his prolific menagerie of works.