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Invisible Cities

by Italo Calvino

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8,396186823 (4.14)352
In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo-Tartar emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts the emperor with tales of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities. Soon it becomes clear that each of these fantastic places is really the same place.… (more)
  1. 190
    Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (WSB7)
    WSB7: Both have wonderfully imaginative but controlled semiotic exercises.
  2. 161
    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. 52
    The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges (Torikton)
  6. 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.
  7. 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)
  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
    Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente (PhoenixFalls)
  10. 10
    Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson (WSB7)
    WSB7: Each has a partially factual/partially imagined frame.
  11. 10
    Marcovaldo or The Seasons in the City by Italo Calvino (unctifer)
  12. 10
    The Logogryph: A Bibliography Of Imaginary Books by Thomas Wharton (unctifer)
  13. 10
    The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo (Jannes)
  14. 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.
  15. 32
    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.
  16. 21
    Viriconium: "The Pastel City", "A Storm of Wings", "In Viriconium", "Viriconium Nights" by M. John Harrison (Torikton)
  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. 11
    Changing Planes by Ursula K. Le Guin (spiphany)

(see all 26 recommendations)


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» See also 352 mentions

English (163)  Portuguese (Portugal) (5)  French (4)  Dutch (3)  Spanish (3)  Italian (3)  Norwegian (1)  Catalan (1)  Greek (1)  Danish (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (186)
Showing 1-5 of 163 (next | show all)
The description of this book is a series of conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, where Marco Polo describes the cities he's visited.

The book is mostly descriptions of cities - real cities, cities as they used to be or will be, imaginary cities, cities that have been dreamed. And the author makes the point repeatedly that what you experience in a city isn't really the city itself, but just a part of that city at that moment in time.

There are some jarring time shifts. Occasionally the author describes cities with trains and modern plumbing, electricity, and taking airplanes from city to city. He also includes LA and New York in the cities he describes. Surely not discussed by Marco Polo?

And really, really odd - interspersed through the book were interludes that seemed to pop out of nowhere: discussions of naked women taking baths,house ghosts who seem to be friendly until they're not, how once all the rats are gone the cities will be overrun with other creatures like unicorns and similar imaginary animals.

This book won some awards in the year it was published, so somebody liked it. Maybe I just missed the point of this book, maybe it's just not for me. ( )
  sriddell | Aug 6, 2022 |
  archivomorero | Jun 27, 2022 |
Beautiful, like a set of prose poems, but also trance-inducingly repetitious. I feel that the context and circumstances under which one reads this book will greatly affect how it’s received. It would make a great book to read while traveling, or when visiting a city where one feels like a stranger. Alas, I’m too entrenched in my stolid, prosaic life at the moment to have been the reader this book deserves. ( )
  Charon07 | May 24, 2022 |
A book of superlative beauty, and short. A personal favourite of mine for many, many years; re-read after a considerable period. Fittingly, perhaps, I first heard of Calvino when I moved to a strange European city, and lived there alone in a grand house broken-down into tiny bedsits. There was a payphone on the landing two floors' up; Telecom Éireann has a poster on the wall above it quoting from Invisible Cities. Dublin then was truly a city with a literary spirit and maybe the rest of the country too. Somebody in its nationalised phone company had understood perfectly why lone souls might migrate to unknown cities, knew of a novel that expressed it with unparalleled elegance, and sought to promote both that book and a telephony service in the same advert. I bought the book and treasured it and forgot it and bought it again much later in life when I saw it in the bookshop of another European capital. I was frustrated, at first, by the blurb revealing that Marco Polo is revealing to Kublai Khan only one city. What a spoiler. But upon reading it again, the book is about so much more than that. It is a heady expansion of St Augustine's assertion that there is within each of us two cities (one formed by the earthly love of self, the other by the heavenly love of god); that there is instead and in fact a myriad number of invisible cities within all of us, an inevitable aspect of the human condition; rich inner worlds that allow us to breath and to grow or, paradoxically, that blinker and enslave us. The city and the human mind are echoes of each other.

I shall leave this city before the month is out. I am moving to the hills. I do not know if I will live in a city again or of I will want to. What chapters will open to me after my departure I cannot say, but Calvino and this book and some sum of my past experiences shall be with me always.

"...what he sought was always something lying ahead, and even if it was a matter of the past it was a past that changed gradually as he advanced on his journey, because the traveller's past changes according to the route he has followed: not the immediate past, that is, to which each day that goes by adds a day, but the more remote past. Arriving at each new city, the traveller finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places." Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities. ( )
  Quickpint | May 23, 2022 |
Very well written nonsense. ( )
  eatonphil | May 8, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 163 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (130 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
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
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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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo-Tartar emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts the emperor with tales of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities. Soon it becomes clear that each of these fantastic places is really the same place.

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