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Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
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Invisible Cities (edition 1997)

by Italo Calvino, William Weaver (Translator)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,662121753 (4.18)212
Member:ed.pendragon
Title:Invisible Cities
Authors:Italo Calvino (Author)
Other authors:William Weaver (Translator)
Info:Minerva (1997), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 176 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:literature, magic realism

Work details

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

  1. 120
    Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (WSB7)
    WSB7: Both have wonderfully imaginative but controlled semiotic exercises.
  2. 112
    The City & The City by China Miéville (snarkhunt)
    snarkhunt: Calvino's book is a travelogue of impossible societies while China's book is a sweet little noir stuck in the middle of one.
  3. 92
    Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges (Carnophile)
    Carnophile: Both books are liesurely contemplations of fantastical situations, not plot- or character-driven, but conceptual.
  4. 41
    The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges (Torikton)
  5. 30
    Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer (spiphany)
  6. 20
    Mr. Palomar by Italo Calvino (P_S_Patrick)
    P_S_Patrick: Thes two books are in some ways very like each other, and in some ways quite the opposite. In Mr Palomar various locations, things, and thoughts are described precisely with the utmost eloquence and detail, whereas in Invisible Cities, it is one place being described in many different ways, hazy, as if seen through lenses of different qualities, and warping mirrors. But the effect is much the same, both books give you something to think about, make you see things in different ways, and are a pleasure to read. Both books also contain no strong plot, and consist of many small and diverse sections, and in a way, could be dipped into. Where Palomar gets very much into the mind of the protagonist, and his fixed, elaborate, and definite interpretations of reality, Invisible Cities is similar in that the recollections are also told from the point of view of the narrator, but differ each time, none being tied to reality, all of them containing aspects of truth found through how you interpret them. If you enjoyed reading one of these books, you should enjoy the other.… (more)
  7. 20
    Tainaron: Mail from Another City by Leena Krohn (ari.joki)
    ari.joki: An allegory of the human condition by revealing one facet at a time through presenting a foreign, strange city with foreign, strange inhabitants.
  8. 20
    Solution 11-167: The Book of Scotlands by Momus (Kolbkarlsson)
    Kolbkarlsson: Written in the same vein, The Book of Scotlands lists a series of alternative scotlands previously unheard of. Every Scotland is written in it's own style, but with similar wit and daunting imagination.
  9. 10
    Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson (WSB7)
    WSB7: Each has a partially factual/partially imagined frame.
  10. 10
    Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente (PhoenixFalls)
  11. 21
    Viriconium: "In Viriconium", "Viriconium Nights" by M. John Harrison (Torikton)
  12. 00
    Ailleurs : Voyage en Grande Garabagne - Au pays de la Magie - Ici, Poddema by Henri Michaux (claudiamesc)
    claudiamesc: Visionario, delirante, spietato, un bellissimo libro... un viaggio attraverso popoli dell'immaginazione, per chi si è già fatto trasportare da Marco Polo...
  13. 00
    The Aphorisms of Kherishdar by M. C. A. Hogarth (sandstone78)
    sandstone78: Vignettes that create a picture of something greater.
  14. 00
    The Fear of Losing Eurydice by Julieta Campos (StevenTX)
    StevenTX: Both authors explore the literary metaphors of cities (Calvino) and islands (Campos) as variations on an idea. The island city of Venice is central to both works.
  15. 00
    Urville by Gilles Trehin (VanishedOne)
    VanishedOne: One imagines many cities impressionistically, the other one city precisely, but each offers a window onto imaginary urban environments.
  16. 00
    Dreams and stones by Magdalena Tulli (DieFledermaus)
  17. 11
    Changing Planes by Ursula K. Le Guin (spiphany)
  18. 12
    The Dictionary of Imaginary Places by Alberto Manguel (VanishedOne)
    VanishedOne: One is systematic and compendious, the other flows freely from one impression to another, but both flit between windows onto imaginary vistas.
  19. 01
    A Mapmaker's Dream: The Meditations of Fra Mauro, Cartographer to the Court of Venice by James Cowan (Poquette)
  20. 06
    Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements by Richard J.F. Day (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: For most this would seem like a quite odd recommendation, but give it a read if you are at all politically minded and you can see a connection.

(see all 20 recommendations)

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» See also 212 mentions

English (106)  Portuguese (Portugal) (4)  Dutch (3)  French (1)  Catalan (1)  Norwegian (1)  Hebrew (1)  Greek (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (120)
Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
This book is more about structure than actual story. There are only two characters; Marco Polo and Kublai Khan yet it really doesn’t occur in the 13th century yet is framed in a conversation between the explorer and the emperor. The chapters are short and describe a total of 55 cities with short dialogues between Polo and Khan. A wide range of topics is covered; linguistics, human nature, death, the continuation of ‘being’, environment, urban sprawl. It explores the questions of how we should live and the reader finds their own answer to this question and yet you never really understand the book but can reread it over and over. Here are some of my highlights. The quotes will give you a feel for the writing. It is not difficult, but the book is also structure on how the cities are presented. There are 11 groups; memory, desire, signs, thin, trading, eyes, names, dead, sky, continuous and hidden and then the 55 names of the cities but each group have 5 cities and you move from one group to the next in a stair stepping manner. Over all interesting and thought provoking but not a true novel in the sense of the word.

pg 66 “It is the mood of the beholder which gives the city of Zemrude its form. If you go by whistling, your nose a-tilt behind the whistle, you will know it from below: window sills, flapping curtains, fountains. If you walk along hanging your head, your nails dug into the palms of your hands, your gaze will be held on the ground, in the gutters, the manhole covers, the fish scales, the wastepaper.

pg 76 “...spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.

pg 82 “But which is the stone that the supports the bridge?” Kublai Khan asks. “The bridge is not supported by one stone or another.” Marco answers, “but by the line of the arch that they form.” Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: “Why do you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me.” Polo answers: “Without stones there is no arch.”

pg 87 “Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased.”

pg 95 “You reach a moment in life when, among the people you have known, the dead outnumber the living.”

Pg 135...it is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear.

pg 153 “The places have mingled, the goatheard said. “Cecili is everywhere. Here, once upon a time, there must have been the Meadow of the Low Sage. My goats recognize the grass on the traffic island.”

Loc 1209 “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that , that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are no inferno, then make them endure, give them space.” ( )
1 vote Kristelh | Apr 20, 2015 |
I am deliberately leaving this book unrated. If I were to rate it now, it would probably be ½* because I found it incomprehensible and pointless. It is, however, the first and so far only book by Calvino that I've read, and I plan eventually to read If on a Winter's Night a Traveler and perhaps some of the essays, following which I may decide to reread and reevaluate Invisible Cities. I might also add that I read Invisible Cities in a Kindle e-book, and it may be that this is the kind of book that requires reading on paper to better absorb.

Thus, for the time being, no rating — but with the intent perhaps later to reread and reevaluate.
  CurrerBell | Apr 5, 2015 |
I think I read this at the wrong time in my life. I could appreciate the beautiful prose but only a few of the chapters spoke to me. Mostly I felt stupid as clearly there was some meaning that I was just not getting and didn't have the energy or interest to figure out. ( )
  leslie.98 | Apr 1, 2015 |
I'm not sure what to say about Invisible Cities. If you require a storyline, you shouldn't read it. But if you can be drawn in by vignettes about imaginary cities, alternating with (possibly also imaginary) conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, you will probably enjoy it. Polo has traveled throughout the Khan's kingdom and is ostensibly describing cities therein to him. However, they're all pretty wild-sounding cities: one city is symbolic, with every item in them representing something else; another was built in the form of a maze to trap a woman in a dream; yet another is built like a spiderweb over an abyss. The Khan questions Polo about the truth in his stories, and also why the only city he never seems to mention is the one he comes from, Venice.

I was charmed by the cities, by their whimsicality but also their underlying truths. I am not a huge fan of philosophy, but I even enjoyed the conversational musings of Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. And as a bonus, this did more to enhance my understanding of Venice than any nonfiction book has so far.

Recommended for: dreamers, architects and city planners, anyone who lives in a city.

Quote: "Millions of eyes look up at windows, bridges, capers, and they might be scanning a blank page. Many are the cities like Phyllis, which elude the gaze of all, except the man who catches them by surprise." ( )
  ursula | Feb 19, 2015 |
I am not a fan of post modernism and all the genres around it. I had tried reading it through the years, trying to see what people see in these books and failing every single time. I don't have issues with the meta-parts of the style. Or with the stream of consciousnesses narratives. The metaphors and the required imagination does not bother me at all. It is the combination of all of them, the attempt to use the language in a new way that backfires way too often. I can recognize a good novel of the type but I still don't like them and rarely read them.

Invisible cities is a post modern novel. Except that its author knows what he is doing and how to use language to hint and show. The description of the 55 cities is sparse and at the same time complete; it is a sketch done by a sketch artist who can convey more in a single stroke than another artist needs 2 feet of a picture to show. The framing story of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan has an almost Scheherazade's feeling to it - the stories of the cities do not seem connected to it or to each other but you can see how they derive from each other, complement and enrich them.

And now and again you hear about a city that you know about - like Trude - the city that anyone that had done consulting work will recognize - you need to see the name printed to distinguish between the airports, highways, hotels... Some of the cities come fully fledged; some are just sketched. And somewhere along the way, the book transforms into a dialog about language and cities, philosophy and reality, listening and talking (and does the listener shape a story or does the one that tells the story) and so much more.

I am not sure if I am going to read another book by Calvino - it still is not my style. But Invisible Cities is worth reading - mainly for making you think over something in a different way ( )
  AnnieMod | Feb 18, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (34 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Calvino, Italoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baranelli, LucaContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kapari, JormaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nieuwenhuyzen, KeesCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pasolini, Pier PaoloAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vlot, HennyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walsmith, SheltonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weaver, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expedition, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156453800, Paperback)

"Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his." So begins Italo Calvino's compilation of fragmentary urban images. As Marco tells the khan about Armilla, which "has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be," the spider-web city of Octavia, and other marvelous burgs, it may be that he is creating them all out of his imagination, or perhaps he is recreating details of his native Venice over and over again, or perhaps he is simply recounting some of the myriad possible forms a city might take.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:50:37 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In Kublai Khan's garden, at sunset, the young Marco Polo diverts the aged emperor from his obsession with the impending end of his empire with tales of countless cities past, present, and future.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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