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Invisible Cities

by Italo Calvino

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
9,141200836 (4.15)1 / 370
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.
  1. 200
    Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (WSB7)
    WSB7: Both have wonderfully imaginative but controlled semiotic exercises.
  2. 171
    Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges (Carnophile)
    Carnophile: Both books are liesurely contemplations of fantastical situations, not plot- or character-driven, but conceptual.
  3. 113
    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.
  4. 30
    Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was by Angélica Gorodischer (spiphany)
  5. 30
    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.
  6. 30
    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. 52
    The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges (Torikton)
  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. 21
    Viriconium: "The Pastel City", "A Storm of Wings", "In Viriconium", "Viriconium Nights" by M. John Harrison (Torikton)
  11. 32
    The Dictionary of Imaginary Places {original edition} 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.
  12. 10
    Paintings by Victor Segalen (defaults)
    defaults: A series of descriptions of imaginary ancient Chinese paintings. Uncannily similar in tone, hieratic and surreal, rabbit-holes inscribed in rabbit-holes... and written several decades earlier.
  13. 10
    Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente (PhoenixFalls)
  14. 10
    The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo (Jannes)
  15. 10
    Marcovaldo or The Seasons in the City by Italo Calvino (unctifer)
  16. 10
    The Logogryph: A Bibliography Of Imaginary Books by Thomas Wharton (unctifer)
  17. 00
    Freud's Alphabet: A Novel by Jonathan Tel (hdcanis)
    hdcanis: A novel starring a historical person (Marco Polo or Sigmund Freud) exploring a city (Venice or London) in fragmentary manner, each fragment handling a different aspect of the city.
  18. 00
    Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot on and Never Will by Judith Schalansky (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Little vignettes about places. Calvino's are more fanciful and there's a twist, while Schalansky's are little anecdotes based on actual bizarre and out-of-the-way places.
  19. 00
    Ring (Swiss Literature Series) by Elisabeth Horem (Nickelini)
  20. 00
    The Aphorisms of Kherishdar by M. C. A. Hogarth (sandstone78)
    sandstone78: Vignettes that create a picture of something greater.

(see all 26 recommendations)


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Group TopicMessagesLast Message 
 Folio Society Devotees: LE: Invisible Cities48 unread / 48SF-72, October 27

» See also 370 mentions

English (177)  Portuguese (Portugal) (5)  French (4)  Spanish (3)  Italian (3)  Dutch (3)  Danish (1)  Greek (1)  Hebrew (1)  Catalan (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (200)
Showing 1-5 of 177 (next | show all)
This is a wonderful daydreaming book. It's basically Calvino's interpretation of Marco Polo's telling the Kublai Khan of his travels around the world. These cities are magically places. I have often wondered if George Lucas read this before creating some of his cities in Star Wars. ( )
  KarenDeLucas | Nov 13, 2023 |
until I reached the end I still wasn't completely sure what I thought and then when I did I felt a strong sense of melancholy even though nothing sad had happened and a desire to read it all over again. the writing is really incredible - I'm usually awful at imagining things but somehow even the short descriptions of each place conjured up whole cities in my head - I felt totally immersed. each concept made me want to think on it more, to imagine it more completely. and each touches on important issues like death, history, justice, memory, meaning... all of it sparked ideas constantly and sometimes made me think of things in different ways. idk. it's hard to explain the feeling. it felt bittersweet, like a feeling of loss for these places which don't and can't exist. I liked it a lot ( )
  tombomp | Oct 31, 2023 |
This book is more of a thought experiment than a story. It reminded me very strongly of the book Einstein's Dreams, by Alan Lightman, which is a thought experiment about time, whereas Calvino's is about cities. Between the two I strongly prefer the former, although it's hard to say why. ( )
  blueskygreentrees | Jul 30, 2023 |
Invisible Cities is one of six entries for Italo Calvino (1923-1985) in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. The other five are

(Links on the titles are to Wikipedia.)

(1001 Books does not include The Complete Cosmicomics (1997), probably because it's not a novel, it's a collection of short stories, one of which I reviewed recently.)

The citation for Invisible Cities from 1001 Books says that:

[caption id="attachment_122897" align="alignright" width="106"] 1st Italian edition, 1972, Einaudi[/caption]

Invisible Cities is constructed as a series of imaginary travel anecdotes told to the Tartar emperor Kublai Khan by the Venetian explorer Marco Polo. Fifty-five prose pieces each describe a different fabulous city and each contains a conceptual or philosophical puzzle or enigma. Zemrude, for example, is a city that changes according to the mood of the beholder. It is divided into upper and lower parts, windowsills and fountains above gutters and wastepaper below. The upper world is known chiefly through the memory of those whose eyes now dwell on the lower. (1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, edited by Peter Boxall, 2006 Edition, Quintet Publishing 2006, p 632.)

But it was the article at Wikipedia that offered me a schematic way to read it...

Invisible Cities is structured in 9 chapters, each prefaced by a conversation between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, and followed by a coda where they reflect on the cities just described. Like Alexander the Great who could not maintain control of the lands he had conquered, the Khan is bothered from outset of the story that the size of his empire makes it impossible for him to know it all. The more it expands, the more it inevitably results in places too far from civilisation to be 'healed' and corruption is inevitable. So the Khan tends to be a bit testy, and Marco Polo has to walk a tightrope between maintaining his own intellectual authority and respect for the all-powerful ruler of a mighty empire. In Calvino's deconstruction of the travel literature genre, Marco Polo is not just a merchant-traveller or an entertainer, he is also a politician and philosopher, one who must always be one step ahead of the emperor. The mental atlas of the empire is eventually likened to a chess board and it is a duel that the emperor does not want to lose.

Like chess, a game of patterns, logic and strategy, the story is framed mathematically.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2023/07/26/invisible-cities-1972-by-italo-calvino-trans... ( )
  anzlitlovers | Jul 25, 2023 |
Absolutely fascinating. The book comprises of Marco Polo describing surreal, fantastic cities to Kublai Khan. That's the book.

This book really reminds me of Jorge Luis Borges, where each story is a puzzle, and looks to be the size of the puddle, but you dip your toe in, and it reveals the depth of the ocean. The description of each city was only a page long, two at the very most. Yet, each one felt so real, and often would have some sort of philosophical quandary, which would leave me thinking long after finishing.

This feels like a book that gets even better on rereads. ( )
  Andjhostet | Jul 4, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 177 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (115 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Calvino, Italoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baranelli, LucaContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brasliņa, ElīnaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kapari, JormaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lauder, ChristopherNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McKean, DaveIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meiere, DaceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nieuwenhuyzen, KeesCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pasolini, Pier PaoloAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riedt, HeinzTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Silo, MoroNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vlot, HennyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walsmith, SheltonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weaver, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winterson, JeanetteIntroductionsecondary 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.
Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret,

their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.
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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.

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