Invisible Cities

I remember a book from my childhood where seven blind mice stumble across an elephant, but because each touches a different feature they are unable to reconcile their descriptions.

Invisible Cities is a little like that.  From the back of the book: In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo–Tartar emperor and Venetian traveler. Marco Polo diverts the emperor with tales of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading  cities, hidden cities. Soon it becomes clear that each of these fantastic places is really the same place.

The book is highly structured, with 1-2 page descriptions of city titled and numbered by the focus on them, yet grouped into chapters thematically. Each is like a microscope slide; you see one small aspect of a city, not enough to visualize it, yet enough to gain insight into both the city and humanity. Calvino’s writing dances along the border between prose and philosophy, and though there is not much plot in Invisible Cities there is plenty to think about.

This is definitely not a book to read straight through. Since it is a little hard to take in too much at once, the frequent breaks made it perfect for dipping into before bed or during work breaks, leaving time to savor what you’re read.

To get a taste here is the first city:

“Leaving there and proceeding for three days toward the east, you reach Diomira, a city with sixty silver domes, bronze statues of all the gods, streets paved with lead, a crystal theater, a golden cock that crows each morning on a tower. All these beauties will already be familiar to the visitor, who has seen them also in other cities. But the special quality of this city for the man who arrives there on a September evening, when the days are growing shorter and the multicolored lamps are lighted all at once at the doors of the food stalls and from a terrace a woman’s voice cries ooh!, is that he feels envy toward those who now believe they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time.”

This book counts for both the Lost in Translation Challenge and the Guardian Challenge. It is also one of the “1001 Books to Read Before You Die.”

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Published in: on June 21, 2009 at 6:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] and Travel: Invisible Cities by Italo […]

  2. […] Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino (Italian) […]


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