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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Most of us can identify with at least one of these stories, April 28, 2005
This review is from: Difficult Loves (Paperback)
This collection of stories represents some of Calvino's best early work (the stories were originally compiled in two books from 1949 and 1958). Those who have read "The Baron in the Trees" (from 1957) will recognize the style at work here. The book burgeons with short stories, 28 in all divided into four sections, and each one includes a discovery of some sort as well as a reflection on the most bizarre of human emotions: love.

The stories contained in the book's first section, "Riviera Stories", seem to have political subthemes. Many deal with the haves and have nots and their interactions. "The Enchanted Garden" tells of two children that happen along a seemingly deserted villa to discover a utopia or a dystopia - are the people who live in such luxury happy?; "A Goatherd at Luncheon" explores the gaps between the rich and the poorer classes when the man of the house invites the goat herder to lunch; In "Big Fish, Little Fish" a very capable young diver comes across an astonishing motherload of fish along with a sobbing sunbather who says she's "unlucky in love", but every fish the boy pulls out seems to have problems - the downside of a bonanza; "Lazy Sons" traces a day in the life of two boys who refuse to work in spite of the fulminations of their hard-working parents.

The next section, "Wartime Stories", not surprisingly, contains the most violent and disturbing stories of the book. "Hunger at Bévara" explores the desperation of a village caught between two fronts and the hero Bisma who helped save the village, at least temporarily; "Going To Headquarters" plays with expectations as the tensions between two men, one who might be a spy, and the other who may be his executioner, heighten; "One of the Three Is Still Alive" probably qualifies as the book's most disturbing story. A man thrown into a deep pit by the enemy discovers that the dead bodies of his comrades broke his fall, he then tries to escape from the pit; "Animal Woods" is both comedic and tragic. A man tries to shoot a looting German soldier but the livestock of his village keeps interfering.

The third section, "Postwar Stories" deals with a desperate world, one with limited resources and where almost anything goes. "Theft in a Pastry Shop" tells the hilarious story of criminals who suddenly find themselves on a gluttonous rampage during a robbery; "Dollars and the Demimondaine" explores a couple's quest for dollars amongst a crowd of rather lusty American sailors. This section deals with the desperate climate of a postwar country. As people suffer some take a no holds barred approach while others find themselves giving up or asking what's it worth.

The book's final, and longest, section, "Stories of Love and Loneliness" is probably the most intriguing. It presages somewhat Calvino's later book "Mr. Palomar". The style in this section is deeply character driven, and the thoughts and motivations of characters get explained with amazing detail. "The Adventure of a Soldier" follows a soldier's conquest of a woman seated next to him on a train. He cautiously explores her body to gauge her reaction. Did she pull away? Is she acquiesing? "The Adventure of a Bather" explores how some see nakedness as a humiliation, so much so that they risk death rather then being seen unclothed. "The Adventure of a Photographer" depicts a seemingly non-obsessive man's all consuming obsession with capturing life through photographs. He's too engaged to even notice the interest of the beautiful woman acting as his subject; "The Adventure of a Nearsighted Man" shows just how much a pair of glasses can change one's life. The character can now recognize many things, but other people no longer recognize him. Even the woman he yearns for, and who he's known for years, doesn't recognize him with his glasses on.

"Difficult Loves" provides a suitable umbrella title to package these stories under. Many deal with love in its various forms: physical, emotional, spiritual, self, political, material. In nearly all cases the characters in the story have difficulty defining or requiting the love they have for others or things. The book explores the nebulous nature of desire and attraction to others and the inevitable hardships of bridging one's desires with reality. Throughout the book, Calvino's writing mesmerizes (even in translation) and pulls the reader in without mercy. The character studies of the final section are incredible in their detail and ambition. It's amazing how much Calvino can cram into a ten page story. The range of emotions is also incredible. The stories evoke laughter, disgust, pity, shame, and of course love.

If you want a good read or want to study the art of the short story, look no further than this book by Calvino. It won't disappoint.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, September 2, 2001
This review is from: Difficult Loves (Paperback)
Calvino is a genius. I read most of his books and all are differents in style, thematic, lenght, etc; but all are similar in quality, humanity and sensibility.
This one is a collection of stories where love is only a component, an important one but not the only (as in real life). Even is not the usual love that it is important here. Reaction to love, moments before love, lonely love are the esential components of these stories.
Calvino knows that it is not possible write about love, we can only describe the environment of love, but not LOVE. But when you are able to write about it with the class of Calvino, you do not need anymore.
Excellent, excellent and excellent
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Glimpses of exceptional ordinary lives..., November 12, 2005
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This review is from: Difficult Loves (Paperback)
Difficult Loves provides a comprehensive look at the art of storytelling, and its ability to expose the subtle emotions and personalities of everyday life. Calvino is particularly adept at honing in on a definitive moment, or succession of moments in the lives of his characters, and capturing the surprising shifts of relation and consciousness that occur suprisingly and spontaneously. The last section in the book, Stories of Love and Loneliness, shows Calvino at his most artful, examining the ways that certain types of people experience life and love. An earlier reviewer pointed out that everyone can find something to connect with in these stories. This is true in an even deeper sense, namely, that within the narration, sparkling moments of truth are revealed about the workings of the human mind, and they can only be read with a consistently deepening respect for the author and his art. There is a confessional quality to the work as well, and Calvino hints at his own obsessions and deviancies and shortcomings as a thinker. This authorial honesty conforms well with the subjects of the stories, all of which are betrayed in a state of almost disconcertingly fallible humanity. These are the anti-heros, the heros of everyday life and love. With Difficult Loves, Calvino maps out another essential area of human experience, and does it with a simple beauty that belies the complexity of his grand project.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true book of experiences, May 13, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Difficult Loves (Paperback)
Life is about stories. Italo Calvino has (had) a true ability to bring you "into the detail" of life. The stories are set before you to experience yourself. Many stories which we long for in our own lives, many which we would never wish to know.
This book enables you to feel the soil, smell the sea, sense the fear...the details that not so many other authors can bring to you.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars These Stories Stay With You, December 15, 2005
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This review is from: Difficult Loves (Paperback)
I read Difficult Loves a month ago and found that the stories in this book have staying power. Italo Calvino conjures up vivid imagery to accompany magical and unsettling stories. His story telling abilities are such that he reminds readers of long forgotten sensations. We feel the marvel and anxiety of two children who happen upon a property that is both enchanting and disturbing. We experience the elation of a man who is new to glasses and his disappointment upon realizing he found only a temporary reprieve from his same old life. Another story that opens with a leathery old man warning a weary traveler against crossing a mountain pass is one of the most powerfully written tales in the book. Difficult Loves is worth rereading.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Laudable observations of life, August 19, 2006
By 
Sheetal Bahl (New Delhi, India) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Difficult Loves (Paperback)
"Difficult Loves" is a collection of four sets of stories, each set revolving around a particular theme or setting. Calvino's perspective and style remain constant, however, as he navigates effortlessly between a disparate set of characters and situations. The hallmark of Calvino's perspective is his ability to take small "slices of life", understand them in great detail, and convert them into fascinating and gripping tales. The attraction to his stories is heightened by the occasional recognition of, and correlation to, the plethora of complex feelings aroused by these small and innocuous happenings. The fact that these feelings are so often buried in our subconscious and never played out recognizably indicate how acute an observer and analyst Calvino really is.

"The Adventure of a Soldier", a part of the last set of stories ("Stories of Love and Loneliness"), is a beautiful example of Calvino's keen observational faculties. In this story, a man embarks on a complex and courageous mental (and somewhat physical) journey, on the basis of a perceived physical contact with a fellow passenger on a train. Such is the honesty of Calvino's account of the soldier's emotions, that the reader can almost palpably feel the various contacts with the co-passenger, while sympathizing, if not empathizing, with the soldier's state of mind. This story is also a great illustration of the use of dramatic arc as a story-writing tool, especially to connect seemingly disjointed ideas or states.

The one serious drawback of this book is that while it manages to avert becoming platitudinal, it nonetheless becomes increasingly monotonous with the passage of each story. Calvino's disposition to simplicity and lucidity become his greatest failing as the novelty of his perspective wears off. Thus, overall, this is a book definitely worth reading, but best read in a piecemeal fashion to avoid weariness.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful, March 14, 2005
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This review is from: Difficult Loves (Paperback)
First off, Italo Calvino is my favorite author and Difficult Loves is one of my favorites of his books. A collection of short stories, as a whole, the book ranks among Calvino's most imaginative and magical works.

The collection really displays Calvino's virtuosity as a writer with subjects ranging from war to a solitary woman swimming. Each is magical in its own special way. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading--it serves as an excellent introduction to one of the most creative minds of 20th-century literature.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, August 28, 2013
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This review is from: Difficult Loves (Paperback)
This was just breath-takingly heart-breakingly brilliant and, at points, exactly what I was looking for. Calvino has such an incredible knack for describing personal thought and emotion... add to this a flurry of expertly chosen adjectives, and you find yourself taken away and immersed into the mind and body of the character on the page. This is what I needed.

As with any collection of shorter works, there are high points and low points. At times I felt like this was a mediocre read. One that I was going to be glad to have read but not one that stuck with me. At times I felt like, in only a dozen or so pages, I had completely lost myself in a world that I didn't want to leave. I don't know if it was the type of stories being written or the simple fact that Calvino became a better writer over the course of the five years represented in this collection, but by the end I felt like *I* had grown into something different and better along with the stories I was reading.

The first section of the book, Riviera Stories, slowly pulls you into the fantastical and meandering worlds in Calvino's mind. Many of these stories seem almost non-sensical and lack any real overt point to be made, but it's within these beautifully rendered slice-of-life stories that one finds meaning if you're willing to look. The author need not browbeat the reader with any sort of agenda as it is simply too easy to lose oneself within the web of words. I adored the non-ending endings of these stories and found that I had to put the book down with the conclusion of each mini-drama to let the feelings that were building up wash over me and away before I could jump into the next fantasy.

This style became such an expectation throughout Riviera Stories and into the first 2 installments of Wartime Stories that the full ending of "Going to Headquarters" caught me completely off-guard and unprepared. I felt it coming, but I never expected to see it happen. Calvino then lulled me back into my dream world over the next several episodes... "The Crow Comes Last" was an incredible thriller that had me turning pages faster than anything up to that point but somehow still retained a feeling of unreality. "Animal Woods" then slowed everything down such that my dream state was nearly complete before being awoken by the iron hand grasping the nape of my neck at the end of "Mine Field." Again I found myself unprepared and requiring a moment to gather my thoughts.

The farcical experiment of "A Theft in a Pastry Shop" was nearly as unexpected and carried well into "Dollars and the Demimondaine" until that story also broke my heart. The whole of Postwar Stories really contained an unexpected element of humor that, at times, almost become too ridiculous. It was here that, while enjoyable, I felt like this book perhaps did not have as much to say to me as I had hoped to hear.

But then the big guns came out and Stories of Love and Loneliness grabbed me by the heart and refused to let go. "The Adventure of a Soldier" was, perhaps, my favorite story in the collection. I think we've all been there, and my skin crawled as I felt the hope, the self-doubt, the assurance, and the hopelessness run up and down my spine just as poor Tomagra's hand stumbled its way closer and further to our nameless heroine. I wanted to be on that train car so badly. I wanted to be Tomagra, and I wanted those feelings I was feeling in abstenia to be real. "The Adventure of a Clerk" had nearly the same effect as my stomach churned as I watched (and felt!) the exaltation unable to be expressed, unable to be shared, and finally unable to be held onto. "The Adventure of a Traveler" simply left me in awe (again!) of Calvino's ability to throw me, fully, into the feelings of these characters. It was, however, "The Adventures of a Reader" that brought everything together for me. I was on that rock. I was watching the tan lady. I was reading that book. I was trying not to see her and see her at the same time. I had escaped into the story just as Amedeo found himself counting the stairs with Raskolnikov. (Again, with Crime and Punishment (Everyman's Library (Cloth)) Crime and Punishment!) Between this and "The Adventure of a Soldier," I do find it difficult to pick a favorite. I loved the nearsighted man as well, and his story of loneliness nearly made me cry. Perhaps this will be the thrill of my life, and now it is over as well. Ugh. The final chapter brought everything together and left me with a somber, undetermined, yet hopeful feeling in the pit of my stomach and the lump in my throat.

Really, this was just an incredible journey through the lives of others. Watching, waiting, and projecting myself into these short adventures was wholly rewarding, and I feel lucky to now have these as part of my "overall and unitary book that is the sum of all my readings."
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5.0 out of 5 stars A collection of loves and adventures, October 20, 2012
This review is from: Difficult Loves (Paperback)
Some of my favorite stories in this collection are the adventures: "The Adventure of a Soldier," "The Adventure of a Bather," "The Adventure of a Photographer," "The Adventure of a Reader," "The Adventure of a Poet," and more. Calvino's narrators deliver poetic insight and warm humor throughout.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning detail, description..., December 5, 2009
By 
Linda A. Lavid "Writer" (Buffalo, NY United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Difficult Loves (Paperback)
Calvino is a genius who paints with words. For anyone lost, consumed, or dulled by the noise of today, take a break and read this guy. Stories range from charming to chilling, always with humanity in mind.
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Difficult Loves
Difficult Loves by Italo Calvino (Paperback - September 23, 1985)
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