|Invisible Cities / Italo Calvino|
|Reviewed by Tal Cohen||Thursday, 18 March 1999|
A strange, fantastic book, Invisible Cities describes dialogues between Marco Polo, the Venetian traveler, and Kublai Khan, the oriental emperor. It has no plot as such -- no beginning, no development of characters (no characters, for that matter, except for the two mentioned above) -- but it does have a sad, bittersweet ending.
The book can probably be classified as “post-modern”, and Calvino’s writing can only be described as surrealistic. Trying to actually describe the book is a frustrating, almost futile attempt; I'll give it a try anyway.
Khan expresses his tiredness of the stories brought to him by his messengers across the empire. Only the stories told by Polo, of the cities that he met during his travels, keep him interested.
Even though Khan insists, Polo never talks about his own city, Venice. He only talks about strange, magical, invisible cities that nobody else ever saw.
And yet, Khan cannot avoid the feeling that by telling him about those nonexistent places, Polo does describe, bit by bit, the city they both really think of.
The book consists of fifty-five extremely short city descriptions, embedded within an intellectual duel between Polo and Khan.
Despite its brevity, the book takes days to read -- at least, when read properly. After each story you have to stop; to think; to contemplate on the piece of poetry-in-prose that you have just encountered. Many a story hits a nerve. For me it was impossible, after such stories, just to turn the page and read on.
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