Review: If on a winters night a traveler

Since you are about to begin reading a rather unique review on Italo Calvino’s If on a winters night a traveler, I will begin with this disclaimer: I am not a fan of the postmodernist movement. In fact, I particularly dislike most of what came of this time, including works from art and music. However, there are a tiny handful of pieces that I find intriguing, not only for the way they were created, but also because of how they make a person think. Such is true for Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night and traveler. So read this with the mind of one who wishes to share a book initially mistrusted, first read, and immediately enjoyed.

This is a book that should be read in one sitting. The version I read was translated from the original Italian into English by William Weaver. The book is a meager 260 pages and, though I did not read it one sitting, it should be read without interruption. The introduction to the novel should be self-explanatory in that regard, but you would have to read the book to understand. The instructions are clear. I wish I had read this in one sitting, but instead I waited nearly a year before getting to the ending. I was first introduced to the book in my final literature class at university, a class which dealt with the arts of 20th and 21st centuries. But in this class, instead of the full book, I was handed only a few sheets of poorly printed paper. I had chapters one and two titled “1” and “If on a winters night a traveler“.

Indeed, when I first received these papers, I thought it was a short story and not a novel. I had never heard of Italo Calvino nor his work.  I was skeptical after dealing with the art of this period to read a novel of the same time, fearing that literature had also been corrupted. Some way, but I was not disappointed with the chapters of this book and read them with fervor. The introduction describes, at least in my opinion, the avid reader, displacing the reader in such a way that one cannot tell where the reader ends and the reader begins. That is to say, where you end and the Calvino’s reader begins. Calvino has a way to get into the readers’ head that is truly remarkable. There is a reality and intangibility to his writing that, to risk sounding cliché, is without duplicate. I would like to compare him to Henry James and his The Turn of the Screw, though the novels are entirely un-alike, yet the mystery and capturing of the mind of the present and unending state in time is truly unique in these writers.

I read the first chapter and settled myself in for the second, which ended with such a cliff hanger that I knew there must be more to the story. There was. It took me almost a year to get my hands on the book, but I found the rest of the story. Yet the story did not continue as I would have expected, leaving me wondering why a story would be unfinished only to continue with the same of the first chapter and continue with another in the fourth. Indeed, as the Reader goes to find his ending of the original story, you, the reader, are drug along with him asking the same questions, following the same trails, being pulled into the same world as the ones between the pages. You will ask yourself, “What is the end?”

In fact, the best way I can describe this book is not my own analogy, but another’s. Think of this book like “book-inception”. It is not exactly as though you get further and further into the same story that has another story within it, like One Thousand and One Nights, but there are always more stories that somehow, in some way, are connected to the last. It is almost as if the authors of the stories took the same elements, yet came up with completely different stories. These elements might be names, places, or times, yet the story will be different. Think of a panoramic picture that shows a complete 360* view, but each snippet you have is different, save a small portion that included part of the previous snippet. That perhaps best describes If on a winters night a traveler.

Italo Calvino’s novel nearly connects all the world’s literature into a novel of novels, yet does so in an interesting and engaging manner that keeps the reader guessing and wanting more. While the ending may seem as much a mystery as its beginning, it is wholly entertaining and well worth the read.

The writing is also interesting. The general plot follows itself well, and it will stick with you long after you have read it. Some portions may be of more interest to certain readers than others, yet all of them fit the same premise. The chapters and linguistic style, however, are altogether nontraditional. The chapters are not near the same length nor the sentences a typical sentence. This is not to say there are some short and some long. There are both. There are also sentences that continue ad nauseam and perhaps are not even a true sentence. When you read, you may question whether a thought was original, inspired, or altogether given by Calvino’s novel. You will wonder where the ‘you’ ends and the ‘I’ begins. I dare you to underline those words in two separate colors while you read. Yet this is what make the novel unique, intriguing, and akin to the way a creative and investigative mind thinks. The novel is written like the mind of a reader. While this can be irritating at times to a grammarian, which I am not saying I am but I do know them, it is fitting for the style and purpose of this novel. I can say it has aided and expanded my own short stories in a small way.

I would  like to say this is a novel everyone should read, but there is a small part of me that thinks only those who love literature and what authors, books, and times have to share with people will appreciate the novel, so I will not say that everyone should read this. This is besides which that young readers probably should avoid this book until a later date. But this novel, I think, was written to an audience beyond its own period of time. Not that it is timeless, but it is reachable by those beyond a particular set of dates.

This might be a novel for those who love short stories. This might be a story for those who love mystery and intrigue. Romantics and cynics alike might enjoy its stories. It could be one for postmodernists, intellectuals, and impressionists. Perhaps this is a novel for lovers of travel, world history, and the everyday events that make up our lives. This work is for those wishing to add to their own. This might be for all lovers of literature who want to expand their writing skills, reading skills, or simply rethink how to think like a reader.

This novel might be for everyone and I think it is accessible to everyone, but perhaps only a small few will get past the first chapter. But then again, I did not think this was a novel for me, and it was. And I, as an author, researcher, and reader am glad that I found myself in it.

Blessings to you and yours,

~Rose

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