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Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 - Updated Edition Hardcover – June 17, 2013
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One of The Guardian Best Books of 2013, chosen by Pankaj Mishra
Selected for the SFG Gift Guide 2013
[C]onsistently absorbing and suggestive. . . . [T]he chronicle not only of Calvino's intellectual development but of postwar Italy's. . . . The letters in this book deal with great subtlety, sophistication, and wit, and occasionally even a certain cynicism, with challenges that might have overburdened a less mercurial, multifarious, essentially sane spirit.---Jonathan Galassi, New York Review of Books
The image of Calvino as postmodernism's light-footed prince follows easily. But, behind that image, who was Calvino? The publication of a considerable selection of Calvino's letters affords an opportunity, or many opportunities, to ask that question anew.---Lawrence Norfolk, Wall Street Journal
[T]here is no writer alive who resembles . . . Calvino. So the appearance of a selection of Calvino's letters in English is a moment of happiness. . . . [T]hese letters offer a gorgeous portrait of Calvino in the midst of his own productivity: as an editor, a reader, a critic, an inventor of new literary forms. And they allow the reader to investigate the complicated background from which those strange forms emerged.---Adam Thirlwell, New Republic
This collection, the first in English, gives voice and witness to a vibrant mind intensely engaged in the literary and political future of postwar Italy and the history of ideas. . . . McLaughlin's translation is award-winning; the extensive notes provide a model of masterful research. Irresistible for Calvino readers. (Library Journal)
Italo Calvino's letters . . . provide . . . pleasure and surprise. . . . In them he shines as an editor of obvious brilliance and a writer of lavish gratitude towards those who appreciate his work.---Vivian Gornick, Prospect
Superbly translated by Martin McLaughlin, these letters place Calvino in the larger frame of 20th century Italy and provide a showcase for his refined and civil voice. . . . Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 is a charming addition to the Planet Calvino--a place cluttered with sphinxes, chimeras, knights, spaceships and viscounts both cloven and whole.---Ian Thomson, Guardian
[I]mpeccably translated and annotated.---Robert Gordon, Literary Review
[A]ltogether fantastic. . . . Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 is indispensable in its entirety, a treasure trove of timeless insight on literature and life.---Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
From the Inside Flap
"Calvino liked to present an inscrutable face to the world, but this literally marvelous collection of letters shows him to have been gregarious, puckish, funny, combative, and, above all, wonderful company, and opens a new and fascinating perspective on one of the master writers of the twentieth century. Michael Wood and Martin McLaughlin have done Calvino, and us, a great and loving service."--John Banville, author ofAncient Light
"Italo Calvino was one of the most sparkling literary inventors and innovators of the twentieth century. He was also a highly astute mediator of the work of others and a pellucid purveyor of a subtly elaborated idea of literature. To have a generous selection of his letters in English, translated with great verve, represents a major addition to our knowledge of his work, offering countless precious glimpses of the gears and levers that operate the 'literature machine.'"--Robert S. C. Gordon, University of Cambridge
"These letters are invaluable. They are an important source for understanding the intellectual and historical context of Italo Calvino's writing and thought, and his relations with other writers. They are filled with irony and insights on a vast variety of interesting literary and cultural topics. And they are beautifully written--a literary achievement in themselves. This translation is a real achievement as well."--Lucia Re, University of California, Los Angeles
"This is an excellent translation."--Andrea Ciccarelli, Indiana University
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Was delighted when I discovered that his letters had been collected and I could read them.
During his life, Calvino avoided both interviews and discussions of his work. In a letter dated September 1954, he suggests that "autobiography is something that one writes by doing a kind of violence to oneself." The author asks that his writing stand on its own: "A text must be something that can be read and evaluated without reference to the existence or otherwise of a person whose name and surname appear on the cover."
Calvino's letters do not display a writer practicing for his fiction or essays, nor do they give evidence of a man with an eye on posterity. Instead the reader observes a man living in the present. Michael Wood, who selected and introduces the correspondence, says that it gives "the sense of direct communication, of a man being as clear as he can about a host of matters." In his letters, Calvino, "tells rather than shows his correspondents what he means - with great and often moving success," observes Wood.
There is, however, plenty here for readers who have followed this giant of post war Italian literature. Calvino talks of his preference for the creation of short stories, "rounded and perfect like so many eggs, stories that if you add or remove a single word the whole thing goes to pieces." The author gives us a hint of the curious creative process for Mr. Palomar in a letter from 1983: "For a long time, I thought some philosophy of mine (even though I was not able to expound it intentionally) would emerge from the book (and would take on a shape also for me) from the juxtaposition and intersection of problems." In the end, Calvino admits, "I knew less than at the beginning." In a July 1978 letter, the author includes the fascinating revelation that the idea for his classic If on a Winter's Night a Traveller came from a Peanuts poster next to his desk which shows Snoopy typing, "It was a dark and stormy night..."
There are some individual treats among his letters such as a missive to Umberto Eco in which Calvino lists "elements of interest" in reading Name of the Rose. It is interesting to see Calvino advocate the Italian publication of Midnight's Children in 1982 as he he discusses "the influence of Naipaul but also of Gunter Grass and perhaps of Gabriel Marquez" on Rushdie's work. But the true value of this collection is that it puts the reader at Calvino's shoulder as he goes about the daily work of writing, editing, translating and reacting.
Calvino is serious about his role. "The writer," he submits in 1951, "is someone who tears himself to pieces in order to liberate his neighbor." Eight years later, he concludes that "we are people, there is no doubt, who exist solely insofar as we write, otherwise we don't exist at all."
Calvino advises in a 1984 letter that "an author's poetics must be derived a posteriori from his works." As readers, we should first look for Calvino in his fiction and essays. To this, however, we are now fortunate to be able to add his correspondence which contributes greatly to our understanding of the man while, despite his warning, expanding our view of his poetics.
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