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If on a Winter's Night a Traveler Paperback – October 20, 1982

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler is a marvel of ingenuity, an experimental text that looks longingly back to the great age of narration--"when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded." Italo Calvino's novel is in one sense a comedy in which the two protagonists, the Reader and the Other Reader, ultimately end up married, having almost finished If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. In another, it is a tragedy, a reflection on the difficulties of writing and the solitary nature of reading. The Reader buys a fashionable new book, which opens with an exhortation: "Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade." Alas, after 30 or so pages, he discovers that his copy is corrupted, and consists of nothing but the first section, over and over. Returning to the bookshop, he discovers the volume, which he thought was by Calvino, is actually by the Polish writer Bazakbal. Given the choice between the two, he goes for the Pole, as does the Other Reader, Ludmilla. But this copy turns out to be by yet another writer, as does the next, and the next.

The real Calvino intersperses 10 different pastiches--stories of menace, spies, mystery, premonition--with explorations of how and why we read, make meanings, and get our bearings or fail to. Meanwhile the Reader and Ludmilla try to reach, and read, each other. If on a Winter's Night is dazzling, vertiginous, and deeply romantic. "What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from measurable time and space." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Avant-garde novel by Italo Calvino, published in 1979 as Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore. Using shifting structures, a succession of tales, and different points of view, the book probes the nature of change and chance and the interdependence of fiction and reality. The novel, which is nonlinear, begins with a man discovering that the copy of a novel he has recently purchased is defective, a Polish novel having been bound within its pages. He returns to the bookshop the following day and meets a young woman who is on an identical mission. They both profess a preference for the Polish novel. Interposed between the chapters in which the two strangers attempt to authenticate their texts are 10 excerpts that parody genres of contemporary world fiction, such as the Latin-American novel and the political novel of eastern Europe. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; Reprint edition (October 20, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156439611
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156439619
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (227 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

It's a number of stories wrapped in one, with a very unique and interesting ending as well.
I. C. Rogers
Each story that the reader picks up in attempt to finish the first defective book he started reading is a story that I would read.
A. Perez
This book is quite boring and the constant interruptions in plot make it hard to get lost in the story.
Amrit Singh

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 72 people found the following review helpful By A.J. on April 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
Often when I'm reading an extraordinarily well-written book, I marvel at how difficult and even agonizing the writing process must be; here's a book that makes me realize that this is a phase most readers go through and a challenge that confronts most writers. A charmer from the very first paragraph, "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" makes readers feel good about reading and writers feel good about writing.
Never have I read a book that communicates with and understands its reader so well. Writers like Nabokov and Pynchon like to have fun with their readers by posing literary puzzles, but here Calvino empathizes with the avid reader's feelings of frustration from interruptions, expectations, academic blathering, and personal efforts to reflect on literature.
The protagonist of this novel is none other than you yourself, the reader. The novel is about the protagonist's (i.e., your) attempt to finish reading the novel that you have started. However, problems keep cropping up, obstructing you from your goal: misprintings, mixups, interruptions, paramilitary operations, incarceration. Joining you in your quest is Ludmilla, a woman you met in the bookstore and whom you would like to date. Ludmilla has a sister, Lotaria, a feminist who thinks literature should be used to further her polemic agenda and represents the kind of "ideological cheerleading" for which critic Harold Bloom has so much disdain. Ludmilla, on the other hand, represents the perfect passive reader who reads for purely escapist purposes.
The novel's structure is entirely original and somewhat difficult to describe.
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176 of 189 people found the following review helpful By Mike Stone on March 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
You are getting ready to read an Amazon.com review of Italo Calvino's book "If on a winter's night a traveller". Is your mouse nearby? Are you sitting in a comfortable chair? You're not slouching over the keyboard, are you? Sit up! Now, rub your eyes, close any windows containing video games, and read on.
Besides Tom Robbins' "Half Asleep in Frog's Pajamas", this is the only book you've ever read written (mostly) in second person narration. 'You' are the protagonist of the story, and are directly addressed by the author/narrator. 'You' are the Reader. This is a technique that Calvino uses very well, especially when he manages to predict (or accurately tell) the circumstances around how 'you' bought the book, how 'you're' reading it, and 'your' thoughts and feelings concerning it.
You notice that this book has no story, per se. Instead, it is about Stories. The structure of the book is more important than the narrative thrust. A Reader (you) begins reading Italo Calvino's new book, "If on a winter's night a traveller". But the book is misprinted, and ends halfway through. So you head down to the bookshop, anxious to get your money back. There you encounter The Other Reader, a young woman also foiled in her attempt to read Calvino's new book. You both buy a new copy from the shopkeeper, only when you get it home, you realize it is not Calvino's new book at all, but something called "Outside the town of Malbork". Things continue this way, back and forth from thwarted novel to encounters with The Other Reader (who, by this time, you've developed quite a crush on). Along the way, you will meet many other shady literary characters, like The Non Reader, The Writer, and the Plagiarist. Do not be afraid of these men.
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Mark Renner on April 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
You have to read this fascinating treatise on reading and writing. I've seen others complain about the weak ending and the lack of structure, but for chrissakes, it's not a Dragonlance novel- it's avant-garde prose. But that doesn't mean it's not accessible. Unlike Andre Breton's shoelace knots of words that you have to dwell on endlessly to untie, Italo Calvino is so easy to read that the prose slips past you a little too quickly. But that doesn't mean it's not worth reading in the first place- Originally I checked this out at my college library and when I finished it, I bought a copy for myself and another copy for a friend. It's extremely hard to describe the book appropriately, but I'm hoping my enthusiasm for it will get my message across- Calvino's insights are worth the price of the book alone, and this fragmented narrative marked by stretches of crystalline, dreamlike beauty make what would normally be a dry work of literature philosophy into a vivid sensual book that I'll probably continue to re-read for the rest of my life.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By "topaze15" on August 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
Read Chapter 1. Finished Chapter 1. Began Chapter 2. Scratched my head. Finished chapter 2. Began chapter 3. Began laughing at the game Calvino was playing with me. And wondering what he was going to do to me next.
I would never have guessed all the different roads I would go down as I read this book.
You'll fall in love. You'll pull your hair out. You'll throw the book across the room. And then you'll go pick it up again.
Any attempts to describe this book any better than this will either not be well-understood or will ruin the effect of discovering it for yourself.
If you are prepared to put aside your standard concepts of literary narrative and explore a new experiment, this book is definitely for you.
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