Kate 's Reviews > The Path to the Nest of Spiders

The Path to the Nest of Spiders by Italo Calvino
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's review
Aug 18, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: adventure-2011, found-in-translation, italy, world-lit-today, coasters, 20th-century-classics, liked-your-other-stuff, the-stacks
Read from August 13 to 16, 2011

I am endebted to the editors of World Literature Today for their recent article on the literature of Liguria that led me to this absolute gem.

The Path to the Nest of Spiders was an exciting find for several reasons:
It is completely different from anything Calvino ever wrote after (it was his first novel, written at the age of 23). I love Invisible Cities also; to see how an authors style can change so drastically (and to read him explain why in the masterful preface by Calvino himself) was very fun.

The writing is fresh and aliave and bears a striking (and intentional-see the preface) resemblance to Ernest Hemingway's. Fans of For Whom the Bell Tolls may be pleasantly shocked to find its cousin here.

Most of all: it's star is none other than Pin, possibly the most wonderful feral child a reader could ask for. [See my ode to feral children here.]

The story is a simple one: Pin is an orphan somewhere between the ages of 6 and 10 who lives with his sister, a prostitute. He has noo friends among the children of the village, what for his rude manners and burgeoning criminal habits. The closest things to playmates that he has are the regulars at the local bar. It's Italy (likely San Remo, where Calvino grew up) and it is World War II. Mussolini is dead and the Germans are in town and the men at the bar, usually so genial and friendly with Pin - entreating him to sing dirty songs and laughing at his jokes - are in a meeting with a stranger. The Resistance is in town, also, and they need weapons. Pin is ordered to steal a pistol from the German who is a regular client of Pin's sister. Trouble ensues. Pin is laugh out-loud funny and his and his comrades escapades will leave your nails bitten to the quick from suspense.

The simplicity of the story (and the lack of any explanatory notes) exposed a gaping hole in my education, namely: Italy was allied with Germany during World War II. Mussolini was killed by the Italians. . . and then . . . what happened? My mind draws a blank, and my plans for reading A Game of Thrones some time this year are shot. It's off to educate myself, starting with The Force of Destiny: A History of Italy Since 1796. I leave for Liguria and environs in five weeks. Better start filling in that hole.


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08/13/2011 page 17
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