Alison's Reviews > The Path to the Spiders' Nests

The Path to the Spiders' Nests by Italo Calvino
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's review
Jun 24, 2015

really liked it
Read in October, 2009

** spoiler alert **

It would be a mistake to read this novel without reading the introduction first, because the two texts complicate each other in a way that, pace some of the reviews below, is absolutely in keeping with Calvino's later projects. I've based my rating on the two together. First, the intro, with Calvino's apologies, embarrassments, and regrets about the novel, which he continues to interrupt and revise for 30 pages. He blames himself for immaturity, for following or not following literary fashion, for good or bad politics, for being caught up in a zeitgeist or trying to strike out on his own, for misrepresentations based on his own feelings of inadequacy as a young middle-class man fighting among working-class hero-type partisans, whom, for various reasons he takes pains to explain, he felt compelled to present as unsavory characters.

Then, the novel itself, in its third or fourth (?) revision and translation, in which the urchin Pin becomes involved with a bunch of mostly unsavory partisans. Calvino narrates from the child's p.o.v., according to which, little animals are fascinating but can be smashed with impunity; a child can expect always to be fed by an adult, even if that adult's a fascist collaborator; and, by a touch of Calvino's genius, the rankest sin an adult can commit is to not pay attention to a child who wants attention. Pin goes to war not because of ideology, necessity, or compulsion, but from a jumble of reasons (squabbles, hunger, pickpocketing, bragging, loneliness, and wanting to find a best friend to tell a secret to: that he has discovered a kind of spider that builds nests) that fail to add up into any coherent whole besides that of his being an individual child whose life has led him to the war. In fact, there is some doubt as to whether or not Pin is even aware that he has gone to war, or that he has in fact done so.

And so, keeping all that in mind, and returning to the introduction, one wonders: was Calvino telling the truth, amid all his apologies and chest-beatings? Or, was he trying to mislead us? Or, perhaps, to challenge us to take his doubt, his hesitations, his revisions of his own intentions as only faces, and approximations, of truth? Perhaps he is saying that 30 pages of apologetic introduction, or 150 pages of novel, cannot supply any single reason behind a writer's impulses, or a warrior's, because those single, unified reasons don't exist. And it's a mistake to take at face value Calvino's declaration that he used the child narrator as a stand-in only for his own feelings, as a single middle-class intellectual boy who felt that his participation in the war was inadequately compelling--because, if we read the novel, we should see that no man's reasons for going to war add up to a compelling, convincing whole. Everybody's motives are fragmented. There is nobody out there who bears the responsibility for a unified, authentic experience. And though, in his revisions, Calvino suppressed some violence and sex, and in his intro he apologized for the representations of the partisans, he didn't eliminate the suggestion that Pin's war is every man's war.


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