Mariner Books, 1978; 165 pages. Translated by William Weaver.
Background: I bought this little book on a whim, because I had heard a few people mention it as one of their favorites from Calvino’s body of work. I knew nothing about it when I opened it up, but as I started to read, I became utterly engrossed and could hardly draw my attention away from it. I walked up to Guion, Invisible Cities in hand, and said, “OK, you have to read this book with me RIGHT NOW.” So we sat together on the couch and read the entire thing out loud to each other in the course of a day. That’s how good this strange little book is.
Premise: Marco Polo has returned from his many travels around the unknown world and he has come back to tell Kubla Khan about his adventures, particularly about all of the peculiar and wonderful cities he visited. The 55 cities are all given women’s names; they are all beautiful and bizarre and yet they are all strangely similar. The length of each section (memory, desire, signs, eyes, the dead, names, the sky) graphically presents an oscillating sine wave or perhaps the shape of a skyline. The cities are everywhere and nowhere.
Impressions: This is a true poet’s novel. It is beautiful, thoughtful, fun, and wild. Its images will stick with you for a long, long time. We find ourselves referencing the cities while we sit around a bonfire with friends, while we eat breakfast together, while we walk along a shady path.
Trivia: We named our dog Pyrrha after one of the cities in this book. Now you know where that un-spell-able moniker came from.
Injunction: Go read it right now. You will be perpetually grateful that you did.