Not to sound crass or anything, but this is perfect for the bathroom.
A series of one-to-two page portraits, each one focused on a new fantastical citNot to sound crass or anything, but this is perfect for the bathroom.
A series of one-to-two page portraits, each one focused on a new fantastical city. Like Escher drawings, each city is impossible, yet reflects our real-world perception of cities we've been to. It's more a meditation on the city as a concept than on any of the cities actually discussed. Also, in some ways it feels more like the experience of reading a book of poetry than a novel. Although a theme holds this all together, every chapter can be taken in isolation. Thus, one loses nothing if they read this gradually, one chapter at a time. Like if they read it while pooping, for instance.
The story, if you want to call it that, is about Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. At the twilight of Khan's empire, Polo arrives and tells him stories of the cities he has been to. The evolution of their relationship, and the evolution of how they communicate, is interspersed with chapters on surreal cities. This structure doesn't really create a linear tale. Fortunately, the book doesn't need one to be fascinating.
When a man rides a long time through wild regions he feels the desire for a city. Finally he comes to Isidora, a city where the buildings have spiral staircases encrusted with spiral seashells, where perfect telescopes and violins are made, where the foreigner hesitating between two women always encounters a third, where cockfights degenerate into bloody brawls among the bettors. He was thinking of all these things when he desired a city. Isidora, therefore, is the city of his dreams: with one difference. The dreamed-of city contained him as a young man; he arrives at Isidora in his old age. In the square there is a wall where the old men sit and watch the young go by; he is seated in a row with them. Desires are already memories.
Many of the chapters end with a sudden revelation that throws the entire city into a new light. Unfortunately, a lot of these revelations don't quite make sense, and one gets the feeling something was lost in the translation from Italian to English. Roughly half the stories had fascinating conclusions; most of the others had endings that felt like something was lost in translation; and a handful just felt like weak entries. Because so many chapters end with supercool revelations, the cities that turn out to be nothing more than fanciful and interesting to think about seem like let-downs. It's like if you think someone is setting up an elaborate joke, and the punch line is about to hit you in the gut, and then they say, "Cool, huh?" and you realize they're done and it was just a story, no punchline or conclusion.
But despite the unevenness, I really enjoyed this, and plan on tracking down more of Calvino's books this summer. I'm especially hoping to find If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, which I started reading in a book store months ago and had to tear myself away from. Calvino is experimental in a fun and non-snobby way, which is my favorite kind of experimental. This could be the beginning of a brilliant relationship.
And I promise the whole relationship won't revolve around bathroom trysts, Calvino. I know you're too good for that. ...more