- Paperback: 260 pages
- Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; First edition (October 20, 1982)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156439611
- ISBN-13: 978-0156439619
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 272 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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If on a Winter's Night a Traveler Paperback – October 20, 1982
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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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Thus begins Chapter 1, Part 1 of Italo Calvino’s "if on a winter's night a traveler", and if you believe for one second that the traveler finally placed in a train station – note the cover illustration - in Part 2 is ever going to get anywhere, you are very much mistaken. He’ll never even get past Chapter 1, Part 2. He is, in fact, never seen again.
*C1P1: Chapter 1, Part 1. Each of the first 10 chapters are divided into 2 parts, the first with the reader as narrator and the second purporting to be the first chapter of yet another novel
Nor are any of the other protagonists in Parts 2 of Chapters 2 through 10. Calvino’s protagonist is actually the reader from C1P1* who spends the rest of the novel searching for the rest of the story – or stories, as it turns out, because there are ten first chapters of ten different novels – so the novel itself is never about a traveler, or about Malbork, the steep slope, fear of wind or vertigo, the gathering shadow, a network of lines that embrace and or intersect, the carpet of leaves, an empty grave, or even, finally, “what story down there awaits its end?” Although, as it turns out, the first lines of each of the ten chapters finally make up a story outline of its own, a story outline that might even, if followed through, complete a novel called, If on a winter’s night a traveler …”
Confusing? I’d say so. I’m not a huge fan of the nouveau-novel (I just made up that term) – novels that seem to be so self-referring that they are more chore than pleasure to read.
And yet I was so taken with C1P1 – Calvino takes us on a journey through a bookstore to find his new novel and then curls us up, like a fussy cat, searching for the perfect place and atmosphere in which to read it – that I read the whole thing. Because it seems to be a novel about reading, about the relationship of a reader to the thing read, and even to the writer of the thing read. Each new beginning leaves us wanting more, and the search for more never satisfies – it only initiates another search for something that doesn’t exist – which in turn initiates … Oh, well. You get the gist.
What is it about enigmatic Italian writers anyway? I read Umberto Eco, too, even the Latin, French, or German parts which I convince myself I can comprehend if I read them out loud – like shouting in my own ear in a foreign tongue thinking I can make myself understood through sheer volume. And I like it.
Somewhere in the house is another Calvino novel, Invisible Cities . I haven’t even opened it yet. I do hope it isn’t full of blank pages, because I’m not sure I could even begin to suss out the invisible joke there. There’s enigmatic and then there’s enigmatic, ya know?
I think I was looking for a love story. I want to share words on a page with someone. I want to think that another pair of eyes is taking in the same words as mine and transforming them in their own unique way to fit their own unique overall and unitary book. I want to delve into our shared experience and take apart the details of how and why we were affected so differently and marvel at the ways in which we were affected similarly. I've felt that shared experience before, long to feel it again, and believed that this book was going to take me on that journey once more. I wanted to see the ups and downs of a relationship related by and existing within the shared words and thoughts of others. I wanted the hero and the heroine, "having passed all tests, get married" and not die. So from the outset, I fell in love with this book. The point-of-view, the internal dialogue, the fear and the hope... everything was related beautifully, and I easily lost myself in pursuit of that Other Reader.
As the story progressed, however, I felt like I was losing my grasp on the love story I thought I was reading. I tried to read into each of the external novels something affecting the overall story... something tying it all together... something that made me see how our two readers were growing closer with their reading. Once the two separated over the boundary line of those who make books and those who read them, I think the author finally shook me free from my preconceived notions of what I was reading. While I felt like the stories themselves certainly became easier to understand and stood more on their own after the Cimmerian episodes, I also was able to change my focus and begin to enjoy each episode on its own much more fully than I had before. It was as though he was trying to teach me how to step outside of my unitary book and value these snippets of different times and places without resolution solely for their existence. Once I got that, I began enjoying the individual stories as much, if not more than, the framing device of the love story. Was it possible to consume these new narratives in something approaching a vacuum? I was getting there.
I believe I had about half the book to read with my new point-of-view, but while I enjoyed it, I still couldn't get what I wanted to see out of my mind. This was becoming a 3-star review, but it had to wait for the end. I was so scared that this book would end without an ending and leave me searching for non-existent resolutions. Rarely have I had such anticipation for the end of a novel to tie things back together and let me resume my normal breathing pattern. And not since One Hundred Years of Solitude (Everyman's Library (Cloth)) 1st (first) Edition by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gregory Rabassa published by Everyman's Library (1995) has the ending paid off so brilliantly. See? Even now I am attempting to transform this book and fit it into my greater story. So to watch Calvino turn this around on me and bring everything to a wholly satisfying and twisting conclusion was an absolute pleasure.
I am, as he said, "always a possible me." "The only truth I can write is that of the instant I am living," and I am pleased to write this now as the me who exists today. There was much here that simply aligned with my life and my current reading habits. I do not know if I would feel the same about this book had, "I read it when I retired... since then I think that it wouldn't be the same thing anymore." As it is, I am pleased with the resolutions, intrigued by the storylines, and amazed by the author's ability to pull me out and around myself to make this somewhat academic study on the nature of writing, reading, and being read flow and fill up my mind without me even really seeing it happen.
There is more to say, but I will have to do it later and as a new person. But for now I need, "just a moment... I have almost finished If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino."
There are 10 stories within the story and they are separate but interconnected. There is a mystery and a love story. This is a challenging and interesting book. But if you want a straightforward narrative, this book is not for you.