Invisible Cities (A Harvest/Hbj Book) Paperback – 1978
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“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.” — from Invisible Cities In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo — Mongol emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts his host with stories 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. As Marco Polo unspools his tales, the emperor detects these fantastic places are more than they appear. “Invisible Cities changed the way we read and what is possible in the balance between poetry and prose . . . The book I would choose as pillow and plate, alone on a desert island.” — Jeanette Winterson
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Every page or two contains an incredibly unique description of a city that itself stands as a symbol for some other deeper meaning. I got the impression that each of these cities could have spawned an entire 300-page novel but you get all of their wonder and meaning condensed into a page or two of beautifully written prose poetry. It's like walking through an art gallery where every painting is not only distinct from every other one, but also different that anything you've ever imagined yourself. For the first half of the book I kept worrying that it couldn't possibly continue to be this good'it did! Then for the second half of the book I kept worrying about the fact that I was quickly running out of pages in what was one of the most special books I've ever read. The cities aren't just interesting for their bizarre and astounding architecture, but also the customs and beliefs of the people that live there and ultimately the meaning that you can find in each of them.
This is all tied together by intermittent conversations between Kahn and Polo and their musings on the nature of reality and meaning.
I don't think that any book will change anyone's life. But the best books give you a new perspective on the world, or a germ of an idea or a glimpse at a feeling'a shred of deeper meaning that you can then take with you and make something out of if you so choose. This is one of those books.
Give it a shot. All it will take is a couple of pages to hook you.
Like Sheherazade recounting her thousand-and-one tales, Polo finds himself in the position of having to recollect for Khan the descriptions of the many cities that he ostensibly possesses. Polo thus becomes the Khan's only source for information about the cities in his territory; hence their 'invisibility.' But the descriptions he gives of the cities seem increasingly fantastic and elaborate. The Khan is skeptical. Polo, for his part, insists that he is being frank.
The question at the center of the book becomes: who possesses these cities? Kublai Khan, or Marco Polo? What are we to make of the possibility that Polo, for all his protestations, is being less than honest with the Khan? In which case, do the cities exist only in the traveler's imagination? If so, is the Khan's empire therefore merely a dream and an invention?
The brevity of each section (1 to 3 pages) and the sensual pleasures Calvino's descriptions provoke makes this book exquisite bed-time reading. In fact, older children would probably also enjoy the beauty of this charming tale.
So writes Italo Calvino, in one of the more ethereal experimental books he wrote. While not as weird as a book made up of tarot card adventures, "Invisible Cities" is a story that defies easy classification -- it's soft, dreamlike narrative in which one man tells another about the magical cities he's seen. Or, possibly, has not seen.
The famous Venetian explorer Marco Polo arrives in the empire of Kublai Khan, and the two men become friends. In the evenings, Marco tells the Khan of many fabulous cities -- the grey metal and stone Fedora, the stilted Zenobia, the haunted moonlit Zobeide, the sensual and bejeweled Anastasia, the cloud-straddling Baucis, the watery Esmeralda, a city of dead people known as Adelma, the dirt-choked Argia, the hazy rose-tinted Irene, and many others.
"Invisible Cities" isn't really a story so much as a series of beautiful pictures-in-prose. It's like we're watching Calvino paint us portraits of his fantasy cities with his words -- and except for Kublai Khan and Marco Polo occasionally conversing about trade, travel or chess, there is no actual plot here. It's just gorgeous portraits of imaginary cities.
And therein lies its charm. Calvino came up with dozens of fantastical cities in here. Few if any of them could actually exist, but they are so suffused with sensual beauty ("its villas all of glass like aquariums where the shadows of dancing girls with silvery scales swim...") and darkness ("All corpses, dried in such a way that the skeleton remains sheathed in yellow skin, are carried down there, to continue their former activities...Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
It is hard to describe the appeal of this book. You really need to just read it and make sure to absorb every word like you are sipping on the finest cup of latte. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
A book where minimalism, symbolism, and originality leave lots of open space to inspire creative possibilities.Published 10 months ago by Jerry
Written by a master and as masterfully translated, this is one of the great works of the human imagination.Published 12 months ago by Michael Purves-Smith
a book that you can read again and again and never get tired as you always find new stories within the stories. Read morePublished on June 5 2013 by mohamad
I received the book Invisible Cities within a couple weeks of ordering it. The book looks practically brand new. It came with a packing slip and thank you for ordering. Read morePublished on May 23 2013 by Jo-Ann
i read excerpts from this book a couple years before i got into architecture school, it was one of the things that helped give me that final push into choosing architecture as my... Read morePublished on April 22 2002
i had to read this for school, i hated it. its boring and repetitive. you can read the first 2 or 3 chapters and thats all you need, because it doesnt change. Read morePublished on March 4 2002 by Jon
This book, if any, merits more than a single, swift reading. It is a rare gem which should be savored gradually. Read morePublished on July 13 2001