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The Road to San Giovanni Hardcover – August 31, 1993
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From Publishers Weekly
In five elegant "memory exercises" written between 1962 and 1977, Italian fiction writer Calvino (1923-85) presents an affecting self-portrait and offers indirect insights into how he conjured up his imaginary worlds. He writes of his difficult relationship with his father, a farmer and horticulturist whose passion for studying and acclimatizing exotic plants filled the future writer with an investigative spirit. Calvino ( The Baron in the Trees ) also recalls his adolescent movie mania, when watching the silver screen "satisfied a need . . . for the projection of my attention into a different space." His graphic account of fighting fascists during WW II becomes a meditation on the role played by imagination in human memory. One essay is an informal structuralist analysis of living in a house in a Parisian suburb. This sparkling translation concludes with Calvino's lyric, metaphorical, highly elliptical description of his creative process.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
Precious little unpublished Calvino (1923-85) remains, and this is some: five slender pieces. The richest is a memoir of Calvino's father's semitragic hump up and down a steep hillside to reach the family's estates each day, down from which he took the vegetables and fruits he grew there. The Calvinos were involved, as a living, with Ligurian floriculture; to harvest one's own food, on the other hand, was for Calvino's father a declaration of faith in utility vs. decoration. To make the daily climb was also a Dantesque renunciation of the lower precincts of existence. Calvino recounts his father's climb, and his own youthful impatience with it, with a perfect modulation of regret, imagery, and sense. As good, or nearly, is a brilliant appreciation of Fellini--in which Calvino talks about the necessity of distance in movies (he's no great fan therefore of Italian neo-realism) and the moral perfection of Fellini's illustrated-comic-book style, in which ``he recuperates the monstrous into the human, into the indulgent complicity of the flesh.'' Pieces about taking out the garbage, a memory of a failed wartime Partisan engagement, and a set of variations upon metaphysical perspective are far weaker (and none of the quintet is especially well brought into English by Tim Parks; William Weaver's Calvino is missed). For the title piece and the one on Fellini, indispensable; the rest isn't memorable. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Top Customer Reviews
Chapter one, "The Road to San Giovanni" is a reminiscence of the author's relationship with his father and tonw. Chapter two, "A CinemaGoer's Autobiography" concerns itself with the author's youthful fascination with the movies, his perceptions of them his obsession with them and what I find most endearing, his love for American movies (it is worth at least books written by critics of that field). Chapter three, "Memories of a Battle" is a recollection of one of his wartime experiences. Chapter four, "La Poubelle Agreee" ruminates about taking out the trash in Paris. Chapter five "From the Opaque," is a Borges-like concoction concerning his place in the universe, using a mesmerizing array of mathematical, and geometrical ideas in a very experimental exercise.
This book is unique becasue the first four of the chapters are complete in the sense that we do not feel the author would have gone further with them. The final one seems to be the most intriguing, not because it seems to be so obtuse (obtuse angle?), but rather a personal exercise by the author to develop this into a major work and as such, gives us an important glimpse into his creative genius.
This collection is a curious oddity since it his last work and could be a primer for all his works. So if you have not read him, this may be a good starting point. If you are an afficiando of his works, this will enthrall you.
The first two essays are really rad; the first focuses on his home town and mainly on his relationship with his father. You get a really good description of their part of italy, an interesting view into the world of early 20th century italian farming life - and it almost feels at home in Into the War, as a prologue, if it had been published alongside those essays instead. The second essay is probably the best; an italian adolescent’s look at american cinema and the cinema available both before and after the war, and how he experienced it and how it changed him. I resonated with that, at any rate, and the next three just kind of….lost me. There’s a 40 page essay in this book that is, at its depth, about life and change and different states of matter and existence, but it’s still thinly veiled behind a metaphor for a trash can and living in france. Maybe it’s my thing against France, I’m not sure, but it never really gets anywhere, and the second half of the essays never quite live up to the first part of the book or his other nonfiction collections. It’s alright, but it lacks the personality of Into the War, so…three stars.