Difficult Loves

Italo Calvino

I’d only ever read Calvino’s amazing Invisible Cities, but I wandered into the FICTION C aisle the day I got my NYPL card and grabbed this collection. I guess I’ve always been worried of treading beyond Invisible Cities since it struck me so deeply. It’s kind of a collection of stories, as a young Marco Polo entertains Kublai Khan with descriptions of various cities in his empire, but it also kind of defies categorization. How could anything else compare?

So I was gratified to be, perhaps less struck, but still enchanted with Calvino’s eye and voice (that appear so easily translatable to English) in this collection. Divided into four sections, it arcs from kind of pre-WWII innocence in Italy via the Riviera Stories to Wartime Stories to Postwar Stories to a group of stories from the 1950s — all titled as “adventures” — under the umbrella of Stories of Love and Loneliness. I was impressed how, despite the variety in time and atmosphere and publication dates, this collection makes so much sense together. Many of them come off as fables without a clear moral. Throughout the stories are passages of such perfect, perceptive descriptions and character insights. Perhaps there is less of a feeling that the book captures timeless, universal truths, but there are still many excellent stories, especially those involving Italy during and directly after the war.

From “The Adventure of a Poet”:

“What do you hear?” she asked.
“Silence,” he said. “Islands have a silence you can hear.”
In fact, every silence consists of the network of minuscule sounds that enfolds it: the silence of the island was distinct from that of the calm sea surrounding it because it was pervaded by a vegetable rustling, the calls of birds, or a sudden whirr of wings.

“Theft in a Pastry Shop” reminded me a little of Murakami’s story along a similar theme. I can’t remember the title, but I think it’s in The Elephant Vanishes.

Maybe now I’ll be more inclined to check out more Calvino, especially since many of his stories are short enough to finish in a subway ride.

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