The Enduring, Undeniable Magic Of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities

Myra here.

I brought three books with me when I went to Naples/Bari for a week to attend a transnational research meeting – all the novels are written by Italian authors, naturally:

(1) In The Margins: On The Pleasures Of Reading and Writing by Elena Ferrante (Amazon | Book Depository)

(2) Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (Amazon | Book Depository)

(3) Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg (Amazon | Book Depository)

I managed to read two out of the three books while on our week-long trip. While I am still going through my list from This Is The Canon: Decolonize Your Bookshelf In 50 Books (Amazon | Book Depository) as part of our annual reading theme, I am also planning to read the international edition of Powell’s 25 Books To Read Before You Die this year and the next – which includes Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.

Invisible Cities [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Italo Calvino Translated by William Weaver Published by Vintage Classics (1997, first published 1972) ISBN: 0156453800 (ISBN13: 9780156453806) Original Title: Le città invisibili Literary Award: Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1976), National Book Award Finalist for Translation (1975). Bought a copy of the book. Book quotes and layout via Canva.

I know many friends who consider this to be their favourite book – and I can understand why. Calvino was a master storyteller – grandiloquent, bombastic, I can almost see him gesturing wildly with his hands as he weaves his tale to a captive, wide-eyed audience – jumping from one fanciful imagining to another. I have no idea how he is able to string together unlikely ideas, yet they all work so incredibly well, notwithstanding (or maybe because of) the weirdness of the juxtaposition.

I hesitate to include this as part of our #DecolonizeBookshelves2022 reading theme, but the imagined conversation between Kublai Khan the conqueror and Marco Polo the traveler begs to be analyzed (by a more schooled literary critic and historian than myself) from this particular lens. There is the emperor with all his conquests and Marco Polo romanticizing each imagined invisible city and describing it not in terms of possible assets and revenues or what it could potentially contribute to the empire – but in terms of wispy, intangible, ethereal forms and substance.

My copy of the book is riddled with so many post-its, each sentence a glowing marvel. I put together a collage using Venice as my primary backdrop since all these invisible cities all purportedly lead back to Venice.

The above quote resonated with me – the sense of being ‘elsewhere’ when traveling, and the realization of things we could never have as we see the abundance and the deprivation of the world.

Here are a few more quotes that I enjoyed regarding cities and being a witness to the marvels of the world:

I especially appreciated the quotes that pertain to hope and how to confront or come to terms with the darkness or the inferno, much needed in these trying times:

Which quote spoke to you the most?

#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 70 out of target 100

July 21, 2022 at 06:30AM Myra Garces-Bacsal