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Invisible Cities Paperback – May 3, 1978
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"Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his." So begins Italo Calvino's compilation of fragmentary urban images. As Marco tells the khan about Armilla, which "has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be," the spider-web city of Octavia, and other marvelous burgs, it may be that he is creating them all out of his imagination, or perhaps he is recreating details of his native Venice over and over again, or perhaps he is simply recounting some of the myriad possible forms a city might take.
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, The New York Review of Books
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Top Customer Reviews
That said, the Kindle edition is an embarassment. The publisher rushed a part-time intern into a room with a scanner and an OCR program and made sure they clocked out on time. Maybe they should have thought about proof reading? Italicized words appear randomly throughhout the text, obviously not intentionally. Perhaps that's supposed to be a tribute to the author's first name? But the words that are simply mis-recognized by the OCR software are the worst: "faces" becomes "feces" tipping us off to the standard of quality the publisher had in mind for this edition. Come on you cheap bastards, just hire someone to proofread it before you throw it out there as a Kindle edition.
Calvino is a masterful story teller - with an uncanny abililty to create space, setting, scene and mood. I found Invisible Cities a personal, intimate read. Marvelous.
Calvino really lets his imagination get high, to create the most bizarre, beautiful, horrible and crazy cities as any you yourself can imagine. Cities of all places, ages, shapes and peculiarities come to your mind. Calvino is really good at depicting impossible places, but also places that somehow remind you of real cities you've been to.
A remarkable work of imagination, well written, this is the ideal book to read in a dreamy scenery, but also in one of these quasi-impossible cities we humans have created, the craziest ones, such as NY, LA, Tokyo, Mexico City, etc.
The comparison to Borges is instructive, because what works in the short form begins to show signs of strain in this novella. Calvino sprinkles bons mots and truisms liberally amongst the tightly structured chapters (whose interwoven, enumerated headings might build, some readers argue, a sine wave or a skyline or something meaningful). Reading the book is to waver back and forth between admiring the clever wordplay and recognizing its cynical candor: "The city displays one face to the traveler arriving overland and a different one to him who arrives by sea." "There is no language without deceit." A city made entirely of pipes; a city divided for the dead, the living, the unborn; a city whose trash expands outward, trapping its citizens within; a city that looks just like the city you just left; a city that exists only in old postcards depicting a different city that never really existed--you'll recognize aspects of every city in each of these cities, or (more precisely) you'll recognize Venice.
Quite frankly, this isn't my thing; although parts made me laugh and parts made me think, I found "Invisible Cities" as repetitive and cute as it is innovative and profound, its substance a slave to its structure, its philosophy more dimestore than rigorous. (The metafiction of "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" and the allegory of "The Baron in the Trees" are more to my liking.) But this book will certainly gratify readers who long for fiction that aspires to Emersonian grandeur or who would prefer something more expansive than the bite-sized sketches offered by Borges.