Invisible Cities

Italo Calvino
Imaginary conversations between Marco Polo and his host, the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan, conjure up cities of magical times. “Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of a marvelous invention like Invisible Cities, perfectly irrelevant” (Gore Vidal). Translated by William Weaver. A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book

Reviews

Reviewed: 2018-06-25

“For those who pass it without entering, the city is one thing; it is another for those who are trapped by it and never leave. There is the city where you arrive for the first time; and there is another city which you leave never to return. Each deserves a different name; perhaps I have already spoken of Irene under other names; perhaps I have spoken only of Irene.” 

         ― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

My memory of this book a month after finishing it is almost like a memory of a particularly good guided meditation (OK, I don't have a ton of experience with good guided meditation, but I know bad ones!) This is a nifty book. It seems so simple: Marco Polo telling tales to Kublai Khan about his travels through the Mongol Empire, with some notable additions. So there's a realm where it's a bit like a travelogue to all the cities I've visited, lived in, loved or have wished to see ― a wonderful imaginative experience. And there's another realm where it's philosophy about cities, humankind, differences and similarities, the changes that happen over time both physically and mentally ― and this is the part where the meditation comes in. It's a terrific book that I wasn't sure I wanted to read before I started. It starts slowly, but once you start to see what's happening between the two main characters and the world in which we all live, it starts to seem almost too short.

 

It also made me very curious about a lot of things and one of the best things I found along the way was a course curriculum for school students based on Invisible Cities found here and the Yale National Initiative seminar "Invisible Cities: The Arts and Renewable Community."

 

Those are just two things I thought were kind of awesome, but there are other nonfiction books and all sorts of memory/artistic and other creative projects that tie into this book. You could spend a lifetime doing nothing but reading related texts. Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities is an incredibly imaginative springboard to seeing our world using our fullest imagination.

 

Reviewed: 2016-07-30

I had to read this book for a class on Venetian writers, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. At some points, I struggled to understand what was happening, particularly the conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan (though that's mostly because I'm terrible at philosophical stuff), but over all its very rewarding. It reminded me a lot of the Latin-American magical realism short stories I've read throughout my childhood, and it was fascinating to see the fluidity of time and space and how all these cities were defined or never defined and thus never are though they exist. It's an interesting conversation on how this Italian writer sees Venice and what it is to other people and all it could be and all it was. It was a quick read, and I definitely recommend this to anyone who has any interest in Venetian novels, or perhaps Italian novels as a whole.

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