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Path to the Spiders' Nests

Path to the Spiders' Nests

by Italo Calvino, M. L. McLaughlin, Archibald Colquhoun, Archibald Colquhoun (Other), M. L. McLaughlin (Other)

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Italo Calvino was only twenty-three when he first published this bold and imaginative novel. It tells the story of Pin, a cobbler's apprentice in a town on the Ligurian coast during World War II. He lives with his sister, a prostitute, and spends as much time as he can at a seedy bar where he amuses the adult patrons. After a mishap with a Nazi soldier, Pin becomes


Italo Calvino was only twenty-three when he first published this bold and imaginative novel. It tells the story of Pin, a cobbler's apprentice in a town on the Ligurian coast during World War II. He lives with his sister, a prostitute, and spends as much time as he can at a seedy bar where he amuses the adult patrons. After a mishap with a Nazi soldier, Pin becomes involved with a band of partisans. Calvino's portrayal of these characters, seen through the eyes of a child, is not only a revealing commentary on the Italian resistance but an insightful coming-of-age story. Updated to include changes from Calvino's definitive Italian edition, previously censored passages, and his newly translated, unabridged preface—in which Calvino brilliantly critiques and places into historical context his own youthful work—The Path to the Spiders' Nests is animated by the formidable imagination that has made Italo Calvino one of the most respected writers of our time.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.43(d)

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Chapter One

To reach the depths of the alley, the sun's rays have to plunge down vertically, grazing the cold walls which are kept apart by stone arches spanning the strip of deep blue sky.

Down they plunge, the sun's rays, past windows dotted at random over the walls, and plants of basil and oregano in cooking-pots on the sills, and underwear hung out to dry; right down they go until they reach the cobbled, stepped alleyway with its gutter in the middle for the mules' urine.

Pin, standing on the doorstep of the cobbler's shop, with his nose in the air, just has to give a cry from his throat--a cry to start off a song, or a yell just before the hand of Pietromagro the cobbler lands on the back of his neck to strike him--and a chorus of shouts and insults pours from every window.

'Pin! At it already, making our lives a misery! Sing us one of your songs, Pin! Pin, you little hooligan, what's he doing to you? Pin, you little monkey-face! Why don't you just wrap up? You and that chicken-thief of a master of yours! You and that mattress of a sister of yours!'

But by now, Pin is standing in the middle of the alley, with his hands in the pockets of a jacket that is too big for him, looking up at them one by one with an unsmiling face: 'Hey, Celestino, you'd better keep quiet, wearing that fine new suit. They haven't found out yet who stole that stuff from the New Harbour, have they? Of course, there's no connection between the two. Oh hi, Carolina, you were lucky that time. Yes. Lucky your husband didn't look under the bed, remember? You as well, Pasquale. They told me what actually happened in your village: you know, that whenGaribaldi finally brought you soap your fellow-villagers thought it was for eating. Soapeaters, Pasquale! For God's sake, have you any idea how much soap costs?'

Pin has the hoarse voice of a much older boy; he shouts out his jeers in deep, serious tones, then suddenly breaks into a laugh with a note as high and sharp as a whistle, while ginger and brown freckles cluster up round his eyes like a swarm of wasps.

Insulting Pin is always risky; he knows all the inside gossip of the alley and one can never tell what he'll come out with. From morning till night he's out there under the windows singing and shouting at the top of his voice, while in Pietromagro's shop the pile of unmended shoes almost buries the cobbler's bench and spills out into the street.

'Pin, you little monkey! You little horror!' a woman shouts at him. 'Resole those slippers for me instead of standing there making a nuisance of yourself all day! They've been in that pile a month. I'll have something to say to your boss when they let him out!'

Pietromagro spends half his life in prison, for he was born unlucky, and whenever there's a theft in the neighbourhood he's always the one to be put inside eventually. He gets out to find that great pile of unmended shoes in an empty shop. Then he sits down at his cobbler's bench, takes up a shoe, turns it over once or twice, throws it back into the heap, and finally puts his hairy face into his bony hands and begins swearing. When Pin, completely unaware, comes in whistling, he is suddenly confronted by Pietromagro, with a face covered in short black hair like dog's fur, eyes ringed with yellow round the pupils, and hand upraised. Pin screams, but Pietromagro has already caught him and does not let go. When Pietromagro is tired of hitting Pin he leaves him in the shop and makes for the tavern. No one sees any more of him that day.

On alternate evenings, Pin's sister is visited by a German sailor. Every time the man makes his way up the alley, Pin waits for him to ask for a cigarette. The sailor was generous at first and even gave him three or four at a time. It's easy for Pin to make fun of the German, who can't understand what he says and looks at him from a shapeless congealed-looking face, shaven to the temples. Then, when the sailor's back is tamed, Pin can shout insults after him, certain he won't turn round. Seen from behind the sailor looks ridiculous, with those two black ribbons hanging down from his little cap over his short tunic to his bare-looking bottom; a fleshy bottom, like a woman's, with a big German pistol dangling over it.

'You little pimp. . .little pimp . . .' people call down from the windows at Pin, not too loudly though, as one never knows with those Germans.

'I may be a pimp, but I know what your wives are up to behind your backs . . .' Pin shouts back, copying their voices, and gulping down cigarette smoke that feels sharp and rough against his tender throat, but which has to be gulped down, who knows why, till his eyes water and he breaks into a violent fit of coughing. Then, with the cigarette still in his mouth, off he goes to the tavern and calls out: 'By God, I'll tell anyone who stands me a glass of wine something he'd like to hear.'

In the tavern are the same men who have been there all day long for years, sitting with their elbows on the tables and their chins in their fists, gazing at the flies on the sticky paper and the purple stains in the bottom of their glasses.

'What's up?' says Michel the Frenchman. 'Your sister dropped her prices, has she?'

The others...

Meet the Author

Italo Calvino (1923-1985) was born in Cuba and grew up in San Remo, Italy. He began as an essayist and a journalist but is best known for his fiction, including Invisible Cities, If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, Marcovaldo, and Mr. Palomar.

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