Friday, August 28, 2009

If on a Winter's Night a Traveller - Italo Calvino

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door ; the TV is always on in the other room. Tell the others right away" No I dont want to watch TV... I'm reading. I dont want to be disturbed"

Ok, all set. Let us begin... Hey, there is a mix up. The second chapter of the book is not in continuation, but a repeat of the chapter one. Its seems to be misprinted. Reader, you have to go back to the bookshop and get a replacement. Well, you are not alone, there is another reader, a young lady with the same request. The book seller admits, that there was a issue from the printers. What you have read was from a Polish writer. You get your replacement book, is an entirely different story and you want to discuss this with your co-reader. On this pursuit, you tumble upon various books in the form of printed matter, manuscripts or translation. Each discovery leads to another, moving from the first chapter of one novel to another , from writers of one country/continent to other. You are not alone, the girl, with whom you form an alliance, to a level of falling in love with her. People associated with the novel and publishing industry are all part of this journey. The book seller, who gives you one misprinted book after other, the publisher who adds to the confusion with yet another set of manuscripts, the university professors of various language department fighting for the ownership of the book and writer, the translator who not only controls the outcome of the novel, but also indulge in fake literature in the name of translation ( which he operates in a different country), the writer himself reclusive, worrying about the reader ( and his interest) and the other writers ( to a point of jealousy) . There are also authorities trying to put clamp on literature by banning the books, confiscating and arresting the reader who carries the book, by circulating fake books instead of the original translation.

In ten chapters, you ( or the reader ) goes through the experience of his life time with the complexities of the books, reading, writing, translating and publishing quagmire. A post-modern novel by one of the masters of 20th century literature, is a demanding read. Switching between the protagonists experience of reading and seeking, the resulting first chapters of various novels in varying style, Italo Calvino creates a world of frustration, intellect and admiration to the readers. Each of the ten pieces were brilliant in its own way, modelled around some of the well known literature available at that time. Brilliant satire on the publishing industry and the various genre of literature writing.

It isn't an easy read. It does demand the readers attention and time. It takes a while, before you start getting a grip of things. After that, it had been an interesting and unputdownable read. A clever novel demands a second read in the near future; I don't think I could understand everything what Italo Calvino has to convey.

We are discussing this master piece at length in our book group. You can read them here.
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
Italo Calvino ( translated from Italian is William Weaver )
Wintage Books
260 pages
Read More : Matt.Todd


Randy said...


Great review on (from what I understand) not an easily accessible book.. I purposely have held off on reading this until I have covered more modern literary fiction...but I WILL be reading it!

Brain Drain said...

Thank Randy,

It is a book that demand lot of focus and time. I'm sure you will like it. Very different and very original. To me this is similar to a book "Tre Queen of the prisoners of Greece"..