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Invisible Cities
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1001 book reviews > Invisible cities by Italo Calvino

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Paula S (paula_s) | 220 comments 3 stars.

The whole book is just the description of one imaginary city after another, with a frame story about Marco Polo describing his travels to Kublai Khan. It is quietly brilliant in the varied and insightful descriptions of the cities, revealing fundamental truths about the human existence, and I believe this is a book one needs to read again and again in order to fully appreciate the complexity. Although it is a short book it did take me most of the month to read, since I kept loosing interest and reading other books. I enjoyed it and I was very impressed with how Calvino managed to integrate his framing story with the descriptions of the cities, but ultimately this was only a three star read for me.

Kristel (kristelh) | 4353 comments Mod
Read 2015; A book better known for structure rather than a novel in the traditional sense. Marco Polo converses with Kublia Khan about cities he has traveled through. There are 9 chapters with 11 topic and each has a few cities. I liked some more than others. I found many quotes to highlight and do think this is a book probably best read slowly or read many times. I'd say it covers philosophical thought about society, time, life, death, humanity, environment and evolution of culture.

message 3: by Gail (last edited Jul 23, 2020 12:00PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gail (gailifer) | 1602 comments Invisible Cities is what has been described as metafiction, in that there is no overriding plot line, no true character development and the form of the writing becomes the essence of the book. I at first thought this 165 page book would be very quick reading but it actually took me a long time to slowly move through the two main streams of investigations. The first stream is the conversation between Kublai Khan and his employee, the merchant Marco Polo. Kublai, the Great Khan consolidated Genghis Khan's, his grandfather's Mongol Empire and set up a new capital in what is now Beijing, founding the Yuan Dynasty of China. His dominion is so vast, endless and unknowable that he has asked Marco to describe to him the cities that Marco has encountered in his travels, as Kublai can never hope to see to the ends of his empire. The conversation between the Great Khan and Marco Polo takes many forms from arranging objects that represent cities, playing guessing games about cities that may or may not mirror the imagination, playing chess to see the form of an empire by peeling away the endless descriptive words, and even simply being quiet with each other wondering if the cities really exist or if they exist only in their imaginations.
The second stream in the book is Marco's layered and eloquent descriptions of cities, from Valdrada, the city that reflects itself in a lake and needs its reflection to exist, to Beersheba that floats in the sky and a whole collection of everything in-between. The cities are all variants of what a traveler from Venice may feel about a city and Marco Polo even admits to The Great Khan that although he has not mentioned Venice, all the cities he talks about are variants on Venice, the almost miraculous city drowning in the lagoon. The prose which is so rich, carries a hint of nostalgia that slowly transitions to something closer to despair as the cities become overcrowded, full of dirt, or simply a limbo of endless outskirts, a worldview where the cities all look the same except the airport names change.
Calvino's ability to speak to what a person sees, remembers, forecasts, envisions, names and feels about a city are all there in this remarkable book.

Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount) (ravenmount) | 486 comments One of Donna Leon's characters, Commissario Brunetti, was complaining about this book in one of the last Leon novels I read last month, so I had to try it. Yep, it was annoying to read. If I was just reading it in bits, maybe as inspiration for making visual art or something, that would be ok, but this is not a book designed to be read as a novel. It will make an interesting comparison with another book, The Islanders, that my sister passed on to me, a similarly structured book apparently, but I am not sure either book would belong on a list of books everyone must read.

Wayne Sweigart | 34 comments 5 stars

I read this for my TBR Takedown and I feel like I must have read a different book than the other posters. I had a hard time putting it down and would have read it in one sitting if life hadn't gotten in the way.

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