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Las ciudades invisibles se presentan como una serie de relatos de viaje que Marco Polo hace a Kublai Kan, emperador de los tártaros... A este emperador melancólico que ha comprendido que su ilimitado poder poco cuenta en un mundo que marcha hacia la ruina, un viajero imaginario le habla de ciudades imposibles, por ejemplo una ciudad microscópica que va ensanchándose y termina formada por muchas ciudades concéntricas en expansión, una ciudad telaraña suspendida sobre un abismo, o una ciudad bidimensional como Moriana... Creo que lo que el libro evoca no es solo una idea atemporal de la ciudad, sino que desarrolla, de manera unas veces implícita y otras explícita, una discusión sobre la ciudad moderna... Creo haber escrito algo como un último poema de amor a las ciudades, cuando es cada vez más difícil vivirlas como ciudades. Italo calvino
Published: Siruela on
ISBN: 9788415723196
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Ostensibly, this consists of a series of conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan in which Polo describes to the Khan the cities he's encountered in his travels. But the descriptions are all abstract, dreamlike, metaphorical, and strange. There are cities that are not the same city when you arrive as when you leave, cities with mirror images that exist above or below or inside themselves, cities whose histories are endlessly cyclical, cities that are built entirely of symbols, or memories or desires. These descriptions aren't about cities as concrete objects so much as they are about the idea of cities, about human perceptions, about... Well, it's hard to always know exactly what they're about. Often the meaning is obscure, which can be slightly frustrating, but is also rather wonderful: this feels very much like the kind of book you can come back to over and over and always find some new insight in it.more
Beautiful prose - a collection of impressions of the self in space. Very instructive.more
I remember this was the first Italo Calvino book I grasped onto. I felt this sweeping sense of s city as a place with a story..almost in some senses its own entity...living breathing and just as human as the beings housed inside it. Calvino's creativity and sheer imagination come into place with all kinds of varied descriptions of cities...names unfamiliar but by the end of even the shorter passages, you feel you've been there. This makes great late night reading.more
This is a hard book to rate. At its best, it is mesmerizing and unique. It creates an imaginative universe of imaginary cities like none you've ever pictured before. My favorite was a city that created a twin city of the dead underground, where they placed the skeletons in positions as if they were doing jobs, but then as the underground city started to slowly evolve the above-ground one mirrored it, until it became unclear which city was copying which and which was the primary one. Dozens and dozens of cities like these are depicted in prose poems generally of one to three pages.These descriptions of cities are framed by a dialogue between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan about these cities, a dialogue that is highly abstract and yet also feels completely real, like something Calvino discovered rather than created.The downside of Invisible Cities is that, at least for me, it did not repay a reading from beginning to end, even one that I did relatively slowly over the course of a few weeks. I loved many individual parts, liked the impression of the whole, but never fully "understood" it as a unified work of fiction and often felt like flipping through some of the cities. So, at least for me, it is a book I plan to dip back into random chapters in the future rather than read from beginning to end.more
This is a hard book to rate. At its best, it is mesmerizing and unique. It creates an imaginative universe of imaginary cities like none you've ever pictured before. My favorite was a city that created a twin city of the dead underground, where they placed the skeletons in positions as if they were doing jobs, but then as the underground city started to slowly evolve the above-ground one mirrored it, until it became unclear which city was copying which and which was the primary one. Dozens and dozens of cities like these are depicted in prose poems generally of one to three pages.These descriptions of cities are framed by a dialogue between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan about these cities, a dialogue that is highly abstract and yet also feels completely real, like something Calvino discovered rather than created.The downside of Invisible Cities is that, at least for me, it did not repay a reading from beginning to end, even one that I did relatively slowly over the course of a few weeks. I loved many individual parts, liked the impression of the whole, but never fully "understood" it as a unified work of fiction and often felt like flipping through some of the cities. So, at least for me, it is a book I plan to dip back into random chapters in the future rather than read from beginning to end.more
This is a poetic journey through the endless kingdom of the Great Kublai Khan as each city is rendered conversationally by his ambassador Marco Polo. There are as many synapses in the human brain as there are Invisible Cities to Italo Calvino. The Khan has dreamt of a city for which he orders,"Set out, explore every coast, and seek this city" the Khan says to Marco. "Then come back and tell me if my dream corresponds to reality." "Forgive me, my lord, there is no doubt that sooner or later I shall set sail from that dock," Marco Says, "but I shall not come back to tell you of it. The city exists and it has a simple secret: it knows only departures, not returns."more
My new favorite book.more
Plenty of other much better reviews but I just wanted to leave a few comments. I loved this. Calvino has a way of nailing down the feelings that places engender in us through descriptions of any number of things – the buildings, a ritual, entrance. I’m going to go back and reread in a different order and will have more comments then.more
I found myself rushing through the rest of this towards the end. Some very pretty language, but it got a little tiresome after a while. I'm sure that this is a work of genius and all, he is widely regarded as one, but he lost me a bit. Sad. I'll have to try another.more
One of the best books I've read all year. It's philosophical, it's beautifully written (translates well), and its presented in a unique fashion that separates it from the stock form of the medium. Calvino is simultaneously subtle and surreal, and though this book was short I found myself putting it down after every chapter to reflect and process what I had just read. A book that can be reread over and over not just to disentangle more of the mystery but for the aesthetic render of the prose. (though I feel as if I am slighting the writing by referring to it as prose)more
This book was recommended to me by a fellow traveler, and I will be in his debt for quite awhile!The back cover of my edition said the only bad part of this book was having to describe it to another person. They are absolutely right. The short description is that Marco Polo is describing different cities to a foreigner emperor. As it turns out, they are all different characterizations of his home town in Venice.Each description is only a page or two long. Any longer however and you would get bogged down in the language. As the descriptions come in small amounts, the reader is able to absorb the intricacies of this version of Venice before moving onto the next.What I really loved about the novel though was the commonalities about cities and structure which was touched upon throughout. Like people, there is both a uniqueness and universality to places. While I might step into a city and feel like it's home, or I've been there before, the city is still unique in it's buildings or stores or language or layout. Yet, there is something deeper which resonates within each of us.One can interpret the different passages in a number of different ways, and I suspect that when I reread the novel, I will get a different interpretation as well. I simply loved how beautifully it was written, and the way it made me think.Thus, I highly recommend this novel for the reader that wants a bit more than the usual fanfare.more
This is not my favorite Calvino, but that is only because his other books are SO wonderful. This one was good also, but it doesn't compare to a lot of his work. However, it is a beautiful book, this master author has an amazing gift for description, and here he achieves an amazing feat by showing us a series nonexistent cities that are really every city. Give it a try, but if you don't love it don't write Calvino off, give him another chance.more
This book is a muse. It is a textured inspiration, a stunning work of imagination, multidimensional. It is a vital part of any writer's library, or that of any dreamer, any artist, any creative person; something you can come back to and draw from again and again.more
A strange and beautiful book, in which Marco Polo describes a series of cities to the emperor Kublai Kahn. The report of each city is very brief, and the reports are grouped by theme and in nine sets. Before and after each set, there is an interlude, describing the communication of Polo and the Kahn. At first the description of each city seems a single, short, fantastical tale. But taken together they become like a carillion that begins with one bell, then grows more complex as another bell and then another joins in, until the whole thing melds into patterns too intricate to analyze. The book is half way to poetry: I expect to read it again and again.more
I wasn't sure I liked 'Invisible Cities' to start with, but it has grown on me. It is a description of imaginary cities with women's names, interspersed with conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Marco Polo comes back from his travels around Kublai Khan's empire and describes to him all the cities he has visited. But these are not descriptions of the real cities of the empire, and in describing these most unlikely of cities, Marco Polo is always describing his own city. To distinguish the other cities' qualities, I must speak of a first city that remains implicit. For me it is Venice.more
A master playing with the power and joy of permutation and imagination. Short sketches of glorious, fantastical cities, given depth and reality by the fundamental human traits and ideas from which they are extrapolated. City as organism city as vessel = city as Mindmore
"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."Like Scheherazade we find Marco Polo regaling Kublai Khan with tales of cities that he seen or imagined. At first there is no common language and so he mimes and uses props to spark the Khan's imagination to create his own cities but later this gradually shifts and Polo can spin his tales over chess.There is no plot, no characters, no static point in time yet it's utterly enchanting. This is a book to savour, to dip into and bathe in the lyrical, absurdly rich musings on Polo's cities. Themes are are openly stated with headings such as 'Cities and memory 2' or 'Cities and Signs 3' within these 55 tales we replay a myriad of ideas, explore our relationships with urbanity and visit many an inventive city. So we hear about the city that starts out to amaze but soon becomes mundane as through repetitive use our eyes are drawn down from the colourful flags and balconies to dirty streets and gutters and move on to an seemingly abandoned city made solely of water pipes and secretive glimpses of nymphs bathing in bathtubs and showers.It is a beautiful read, post-modern and surreal it maybe but it is also great funmore
Brilliant. I'll be reflecting back on these cities for the rest of my life.more
Invisible Cities provides an abstract if not surreal vision into the many perspectives of the city. Set as conversation between the infamous Marco Polo and Kublai Khan Invisible Cities documents Marco Polo's vivid and imaginative descriptions of the cities that he has seen. Author Italo Calvino provides many philosophical musings regarding the nature of Marco Polo's travels and brings to question the very essence of existence and our conceptions of place. Marco Polo's descriptions of cities are remarkable. He tells of each city not only through the lens of his own personal perspective, but he goes to great lengths to describe how the residents in each place understand the city and what emotions they attach to their location. As he recalls each city Marco Polo manages a certain detachment through which he describes the movement of each city's residents as if they were ants occupying an ant hill. Calvino creates a complex mental puzzle in the conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan that forces the reader to come to grips with the transient nature of physical space. As Invisible Cities progresses the reader becomes aware of the different emotions and conceptions that we all attach to cities and places and how our feelings can transform the physical manifestations of those places into an entirely different existence than what others experience. Calvino is poetic in his descriptions of splendor and ruin. Invisible Cities is worth reading for the descriptive language alone. Marco Polo's descriptions make his places come alive and create a truly immersive experience through the use of Calvino's powerful imagery.more
I thought I would have liked this more than I did. I like most of Calvino’s books, and in this one the writing is absolutely beautiful, the observations on cities are clever and insightful, and the structure is innovative. But somehow, for me, all of these ingredients didn’t add up to a very rewarding whole.I think the problem was the lack of plot. The structure of the book is a series of one- or two-page descriptions of different imaginary cities, with occasional philosophical conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan in between. Nothing happens, there is no progress, and nothing much is revealed about the characters. It’s all a long intellectual game. The flights of fancy were certainly very impressive, but I kept finding that my mind was wandering as I read, and I had to go back and start at the top of the page, something that has rarely happened to me since the days of prescribed reading at school and university.I was reading quite late at night mostly, so maybe that was the problem, but again that is not normally an issue for me. If I like a book, I can concentrate on it even when I am dog tired. This one just failed to hold my interest, as much as I loved the premise, the writing and the ideas. The cities, as different as they were, just began to sound the same, and the descriptions became repetitive.I guess Calvino’s point was to describe general attributes of the city by describing different specific cities that embody an aspect of it in the extreme – for example in Leonia people refashion their lives every day, throwing everything out and using new clothes, fresh sheets, etc. “So you begin to wonder if Leonia’s true passion is really, as they say, the enjoyment of new and different things, and not, instead, the joy of expelling, discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity.” This is a great insight, beautifully expressed, and the book is full of things like this. But there are no real people doing things.I suppose this book made me realise that while experimentation is great, and beauty and cleverness go a long way, the more prosaic basics like plot and character do go a long way.more
Marco Polo describes the many cities he's visited to Kublai Khan. Between the city descriptions Polo and Khan talk. This is Invisible Cities. If you're looking for story, if you're looking for character, if you're looking for lost symbols conjured up by a certain Brown... you won't find it here. You will find wonderful ideas and beautiful descriptions of cities and people. This was a little book that required a slow reading to enjoy the dense writing of Calvino.One day I hope to look up at the city of Baucis and wave. 'After a seven days' march through woodland, the traveler directed toward Baucis cannot see the city and yet he has arrived. The slender stilts that rise from the ground at a a great distance from one another and are lost above the clouds support the city. You climb them with ladders. On the ground the inhabitants rarely show themselves: having already everything they need up there, they prefer not to come down. Nothing of the city touches the earth except those long flamingo legs on which it rests and, when the days are sunny, a pierced, angular shadow that falls on the foliage.There are three hypotheses about the inhabitants of Baucis: that they hate the earth; that they respect it so much they avoid all contact; that they love it as it was before they existed and with spyglasses and telescopes aimed downward they never tire of examining it, leaf by leaf, stone by stone, ant by ant, contemplating with fascination their own absence.'more
Yes, I know that this book is widely considered a masterpiece. Yes, I loved If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, and count it among one of my favorite books of all time. No, I did not care much for Invisible Cities. I can admire this book on an intellectual level: for instance, its structure is fascinating in and of itself. Different categories of stories march up and down in number sequence and are replaced by other categories as they run out of examples. And the cities all seem to have the names of women. You’ll be fascinated by the conversations between Kublai Kahn and Marco Polo about the philosophy of cities, ultimately questioning their very existence outside of their imaginations. But this is a cold book, a book to admire without loving it, an experiment in form and language that does not coalesce into a story. It reminded me a good deal of Alan Lightman’s Einstein's Dreams, which to me contains more life and heat – more poetry, perhaps – despite its unconventional structure. Despite my misgivings, however, I came away from Invisible Cities determined to read more of Calvino’s work. I’ve now read one book I loved to distraction, and another that fell entirely flat. It makes me very curious about how I’ll react to, say, Difficult Loves or The Baron in the Trees.more
This is the first book I have read by Italo Calvino. It popped up on my LT recommendations list, and being a bit of a city planning "nerd" (and interested in cities, in general), I was immediately intrigued. Happily I chanced upon a copy during my recent travels, and it became a perfect accompaniment for my trip.At its surface, Invisible Cities is a dialogue between the famed explorer Marco Polo and the legendary Emperor Kublai Khan. Polo describes cities that he has visited on his travels, either physically or psychologically fantastical, and all curiously possessing feminine names. However as the tale progresses Khan becomes less convinced that Polo has actually traveled to these places. The reader is suspicious as well, especially as anachronisms creep into the descriptions...The descriptions themselves are beautifully written, each intriguing and as well as self contained. The book is formatted into sections that open and close with dialogue between Polo and Khan, framing the descriptions of the different cities. The descriptions are also tied loosely to one another by their repeating titles: “Cities & Memory 1” or “Hidden Cities 4” for example.Calvino explores not only the idea of the city (what is it anyway?), but uses the city to play with our notion of how we interact with our environment (built or otherwise). Did we create the cities or did they create us?Along the same theme, the cities described seem to represent different parts of our psyches (at least to me). They probe at many aspects of the human experience such as: fear of death, weariness, love, and longing. At the same time, Invisible Cities explores broader dichotomies such as: permanence/impermanence; opulence/squalor; life/death; virtue/sin and truth/falsity. To me, reading Invisible Cities was comparable to having a glass of fine wine. If you are inclined, you could drink it in quickly and eagerly, enjoying its beauty and flavour on one level. However, for me to fully appreciate Invisible Cities, I found it was better to sip it slowly and let the story unravel its complexities and richness as I meditated on the imagery and ideas Calvino presented.more
I read Chapter 1 of this book. And then I had to backtrack. I decided to read all bookends of every chapter instead. These contain imaginary conversations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. This book is very well written. The several variations on the theme of the city are perfect exercises for a powerful writer. It should have been marketed as poetry and not fiction, as each snippet can be considered a prose poem. I decided to forgo reading the rest of it. There's no doubt that Italo Calvino writes beautifully. But in this case, beauty is its own weakness. You will be fed up by the painful beauty of the writing.more
Beautifully confusing. Every time I would read this book I would just fall asleep. It honestly was that tiring for my mind to keep up with the imagery. Eventually I started to walk while I read. While I couldn't walk in a straight line to save my life - I started to see the pictures and understand the meanings of the extremely well-detailed places. I even bought another copy so I could mark notes in the margins of one, but still be able to go back and read with an unadulterated mind the next time.more
This book is extremely difficult to explain. I have been trying to come up with some way to explain its contents without simply cutting and pasting for weeks now, but the challenge is considerable.Is Cities a travelogue? It is, after all, nothing but a collection of short two page descriptions of various cities that Marco Polo has visited while in the great Khan's empire. But none of these cities actually exist, and no traveling actually takes place. Polo and the Khan remain in the same garden, chatting, throughout the entirety of the book. Is Cities a riddle? The so called premise of the book might suggest that. Polo talks of all these myriad places, and the Khan slowly comes to the realization that Polo is not describing cities at all but is talking about something else entirely. However, riddles usually end when the secret is revealed, and the secret here is not the point.What Invisible Cities most resembles in my mind is a collection of imaginative fables, where cities represent all manner of things and their description is a description of the humanity that has built them and lives in them. What I love most about this book is that it is a thinkers book, but at the same time it can be read solely for its imagination and whimsey as well.The greatest strength of Invisible Cities is in its style, so here is a snippit:"For those who pass it without entering, the city is one thing; it is another for those who are trapped by it and never leave. There is the city where you arrive for the first time; and there is another city which you leave never to return. Each deserves a different name; perhaps I have already spoken of Irene under other names; perhaps I have spoken only of Irene."You should pick this book up, read it, and decide for yourself what Marco Polo means by this.more
Love this book. One of the most intelligent books ever imagined and one of the few books by another I truly wish I would have written.more
Read all 58 reviews

Reviews

Ostensibly, this consists of a series of conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan in which Polo describes to the Khan the cities he's encountered in his travels. But the descriptions are all abstract, dreamlike, metaphorical, and strange. There are cities that are not the same city when you arrive as when you leave, cities with mirror images that exist above or below or inside themselves, cities whose histories are endlessly cyclical, cities that are built entirely of symbols, or memories or desires. These descriptions aren't about cities as concrete objects so much as they are about the idea of cities, about human perceptions, about... Well, it's hard to always know exactly what they're about. Often the meaning is obscure, which can be slightly frustrating, but is also rather wonderful: this feels very much like the kind of book you can come back to over and over and always find some new insight in it.more
Beautiful prose - a collection of impressions of the self in space. Very instructive.more
I remember this was the first Italo Calvino book I grasped onto. I felt this sweeping sense of s city as a place with a story..almost in some senses its own entity...living breathing and just as human as the beings housed inside it. Calvino's creativity and sheer imagination come into place with all kinds of varied descriptions of cities...names unfamiliar but by the end of even the shorter passages, you feel you've been there. This makes great late night reading.more
This is a hard book to rate. At its best, it is mesmerizing and unique. It creates an imaginative universe of imaginary cities like none you've ever pictured before. My favorite was a city that created a twin city of the dead underground, where they placed the skeletons in positions as if they were doing jobs, but then as the underground city started to slowly evolve the above-ground one mirrored it, until it became unclear which city was copying which and which was the primary one. Dozens and dozens of cities like these are depicted in prose poems generally of one to three pages.These descriptions of cities are framed by a dialogue between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan about these cities, a dialogue that is highly abstract and yet also feels completely real, like something Calvino discovered rather than created.The downside of Invisible Cities is that, at least for me, it did not repay a reading from beginning to end, even one that I did relatively slowly over the course of a few weeks. I loved many individual parts, liked the impression of the whole, but never fully "understood" it as a unified work of fiction and often felt like flipping through some of the cities. So, at least for me, it is a book I plan to dip back into random chapters in the future rather than read from beginning to end.more
This is a hard book to rate. At its best, it is mesmerizing and unique. It creates an imaginative universe of imaginary cities like none you've ever pictured before. My favorite was a city that created a twin city of the dead underground, where they placed the skeletons in positions as if they were doing jobs, but then as the underground city started to slowly evolve the above-ground one mirrored it, until it became unclear which city was copying which and which was the primary one. Dozens and dozens of cities like these are depicted in prose poems generally of one to three pages.These descriptions of cities are framed by a dialogue between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan about these cities, a dialogue that is highly abstract and yet also feels completely real, like something Calvino discovered rather than created.The downside of Invisible Cities is that, at least for me, it did not repay a reading from beginning to end, even one that I did relatively slowly over the course of a few weeks. I loved many individual parts, liked the impression of the whole, but never fully "understood" it as a unified work of fiction and often felt like flipping through some of the cities. So, at least for me, it is a book I plan to dip back into random chapters in the future rather than read from beginning to end.more
This is a poetic journey through the endless kingdom of the Great Kublai Khan as each city is rendered conversationally by his ambassador Marco Polo. There are as many synapses in the human brain as there are Invisible Cities to Italo Calvino. The Khan has dreamt of a city for which he orders,"Set out, explore every coast, and seek this city" the Khan says to Marco. "Then come back and tell me if my dream corresponds to reality." "Forgive me, my lord, there is no doubt that sooner or later I shall set sail from that dock," Marco Says, "but I shall not come back to tell you of it. The city exists and it has a simple secret: it knows only departures, not returns."more
My new favorite book.more
Plenty of other much better reviews but I just wanted to leave a few comments. I loved this. Calvino has a way of nailing down the feelings that places engender in us through descriptions of any number of things – the buildings, a ritual, entrance. I’m going to go back and reread in a different order and will have more comments then.more
I found myself rushing through the rest of this towards the end. Some very pretty language, but it got a little tiresome after a while. I'm sure that this is a work of genius and all, he is widely regarded as one, but he lost me a bit. Sad. I'll have to try another.more
One of the best books I've read all year. It's philosophical, it's beautifully written (translates well), and its presented in a unique fashion that separates it from the stock form of the medium. Calvino is simultaneously subtle and surreal, and though this book was short I found myself putting it down after every chapter to reflect and process what I had just read. A book that can be reread over and over not just to disentangle more of the mystery but for the aesthetic render of the prose. (though I feel as if I am slighting the writing by referring to it as prose)more
This book was recommended to me by a fellow traveler, and I will be in his debt for quite awhile!The back cover of my edition said the only bad part of this book was having to describe it to another person. They are absolutely right. The short description is that Marco Polo is describing different cities to a foreigner emperor. As it turns out, they are all different characterizations of his home town in Venice.Each description is only a page or two long. Any longer however and you would get bogged down in the language. As the descriptions come in small amounts, the reader is able to absorb the intricacies of this version of Venice before moving onto the next.What I really loved about the novel though was the commonalities about cities and structure which was touched upon throughout. Like people, there is both a uniqueness and universality to places. While I might step into a city and feel like it's home, or I've been there before, the city is still unique in it's buildings or stores or language or layout. Yet, there is something deeper which resonates within each of us.One can interpret the different passages in a number of different ways, and I suspect that when I reread the novel, I will get a different interpretation as well. I simply loved how beautifully it was written, and the way it made me think.Thus, I highly recommend this novel for the reader that wants a bit more than the usual fanfare.more
This is not my favorite Calvino, but that is only because his other books are SO wonderful. This one was good also, but it doesn't compare to a lot of his work. However, it is a beautiful book, this master author has an amazing gift for description, and here he achieves an amazing feat by showing us a series nonexistent cities that are really every city. Give it a try, but if you don't love it don't write Calvino off, give him another chance.more
This book is a muse. It is a textured inspiration, a stunning work of imagination, multidimensional. It is a vital part of any writer's library, or that of any dreamer, any artist, any creative person; something you can come back to and draw from again and again.more
A strange and beautiful book, in which Marco Polo describes a series of cities to the emperor Kublai Kahn. The report of each city is very brief, and the reports are grouped by theme and in nine sets. Before and after each set, there is an interlude, describing the communication of Polo and the Kahn. At first the description of each city seems a single, short, fantastical tale. But taken together they become like a carillion that begins with one bell, then grows more complex as another bell and then another joins in, until the whole thing melds into patterns too intricate to analyze. The book is half way to poetry: I expect to read it again and again.more
I wasn't sure I liked 'Invisible Cities' to start with, but it has grown on me. It is a description of imaginary cities with women's names, interspersed with conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Marco Polo comes back from his travels around Kublai Khan's empire and describes to him all the cities he has visited. But these are not descriptions of the real cities of the empire, and in describing these most unlikely of cities, Marco Polo is always describing his own city. To distinguish the other cities' qualities, I must speak of a first city that remains implicit. For me it is Venice.more
A master playing with the power and joy of permutation and imagination. Short sketches of glorious, fantastical cities, given depth and reality by the fundamental human traits and ideas from which they are extrapolated. City as organism city as vessel = city as Mindmore
"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."Like Scheherazade we find Marco Polo regaling Kublai Khan with tales of cities that he seen or imagined. At first there is no common language and so he mimes and uses props to spark the Khan's imagination to create his own cities but later this gradually shifts and Polo can spin his tales over chess.There is no plot, no characters, no static point in time yet it's utterly enchanting. This is a book to savour, to dip into and bathe in the lyrical, absurdly rich musings on Polo's cities. Themes are are openly stated with headings such as 'Cities and memory 2' or 'Cities and Signs 3' within these 55 tales we replay a myriad of ideas, explore our relationships with urbanity and visit many an inventive city. So we hear about the city that starts out to amaze but soon becomes mundane as through repetitive use our eyes are drawn down from the colourful flags and balconies to dirty streets and gutters and move on to an seemingly abandoned city made solely of water pipes and secretive glimpses of nymphs bathing in bathtubs and showers.It is a beautiful read, post-modern and surreal it maybe but it is also great funmore
Brilliant. I'll be reflecting back on these cities for the rest of my life.more
Invisible Cities provides an abstract if not surreal vision into the many perspectives of the city. Set as conversation between the infamous Marco Polo and Kublai Khan Invisible Cities documents Marco Polo's vivid and imaginative descriptions of the cities that he has seen. Author Italo Calvino provides many philosophical musings regarding the nature of Marco Polo's travels and brings to question the very essence of existence and our conceptions of place. Marco Polo's descriptions of cities are remarkable. He tells of each city not only through the lens of his own personal perspective, but he goes to great lengths to describe how the residents in each place understand the city and what emotions they attach to their location. As he recalls each city Marco Polo manages a certain detachment through which he describes the movement of each city's residents as if they were ants occupying an ant hill. Calvino creates a complex mental puzzle in the conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan that forces the reader to come to grips with the transient nature of physical space. As Invisible Cities progresses the reader becomes aware of the different emotions and conceptions that we all attach to cities and places and how our feelings can transform the physical manifestations of those places into an entirely different existence than what others experience. Calvino is poetic in his descriptions of splendor and ruin. Invisible Cities is worth reading for the descriptive language alone. Marco Polo's descriptions make his places come alive and create a truly immersive experience through the use of Calvino's powerful imagery.more
I thought I would have liked this more than I did. I like most of Calvino’s books, and in this one the writing is absolutely beautiful, the observations on cities are clever and insightful, and the structure is innovative. But somehow, for me, all of these ingredients didn’t add up to a very rewarding whole.I think the problem was the lack of plot. The structure of the book is a series of one- or two-page descriptions of different imaginary cities, with occasional philosophical conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan in between. Nothing happens, there is no progress, and nothing much is revealed about the characters. It’s all a long intellectual game. The flights of fancy were certainly very impressive, but I kept finding that my mind was wandering as I read, and I had to go back and start at the top of the page, something that has rarely happened to me since the days of prescribed reading at school and university.I was reading quite late at night mostly, so maybe that was the problem, but again that is not normally an issue for me. If I like a book, I can concentrate on it even when I am dog tired. This one just failed to hold my interest, as much as I loved the premise, the writing and the ideas. The cities, as different as they were, just began to sound the same, and the descriptions became repetitive.I guess Calvino’s point was to describe general attributes of the city by describing different specific cities that embody an aspect of it in the extreme – for example in Leonia people refashion their lives every day, throwing everything out and using new clothes, fresh sheets, etc. “So you begin to wonder if Leonia’s true passion is really, as they say, the enjoyment of new and different things, and not, instead, the joy of expelling, discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity.” This is a great insight, beautifully expressed, and the book is full of things like this. But there are no real people doing things.I suppose this book made me realise that while experimentation is great, and beauty and cleverness go a long way, the more prosaic basics like plot and character do go a long way.more
Marco Polo describes the many cities he's visited to Kublai Khan. Between the city descriptions Polo and Khan talk. This is Invisible Cities. If you're looking for story, if you're looking for character, if you're looking for lost symbols conjured up by a certain Brown... you won't find it here. You will find wonderful ideas and beautiful descriptions of cities and people. This was a little book that required a slow reading to enjoy the dense writing of Calvino.One day I hope to look up at the city of Baucis and wave. 'After a seven days' march through woodland, the traveler directed toward Baucis cannot see the city and yet he has arrived. The slender stilts that rise from the ground at a a great distance from one another and are lost above the clouds support the city. You climb them with ladders. On the ground the inhabitants rarely show themselves: having already everything they need up there, they prefer not to come down. Nothing of the city touches the earth except those long flamingo legs on which it rests and, when the days are sunny, a pierced, angular shadow that falls on the foliage.There are three hypotheses about the inhabitants of Baucis: that they hate the earth; that they respect it so much they avoid all contact; that they love it as it was before they existed and with spyglasses and telescopes aimed downward they never tire of examining it, leaf by leaf, stone by stone, ant by ant, contemplating with fascination their own absence.'more
Yes, I know that this book is widely considered a masterpiece. Yes, I loved If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, and count it among one of my favorite books of all time. No, I did not care much for Invisible Cities. I can admire this book on an intellectual level: for instance, its structure is fascinating in and of itself. Different categories of stories march up and down in number sequence and are replaced by other categories as they run out of examples. And the cities all seem to have the names of women. You’ll be fascinated by the conversations between Kublai Kahn and Marco Polo about the philosophy of cities, ultimately questioning their very existence outside of their imaginations. But this is a cold book, a book to admire without loving it, an experiment in form and language that does not coalesce into a story. It reminded me a good deal of Alan Lightman’s Einstein's Dreams, which to me contains more life and heat – more poetry, perhaps – despite its unconventional structure. Despite my misgivings, however, I came away from Invisible Cities determined to read more of Calvino’s work. I’ve now read one book I loved to distraction, and another that fell entirely flat. It makes me very curious about how I’ll react to, say, Difficult Loves or The Baron in the Trees.more
This is the first book I have read by Italo Calvino. It popped up on my LT recommendations list, and being a bit of a city planning "nerd" (and interested in cities, in general), I was immediately intrigued. Happily I chanced upon a copy during my recent travels, and it became a perfect accompaniment for my trip.At its surface, Invisible Cities is a dialogue between the famed explorer Marco Polo and the legendary Emperor Kublai Khan. Polo describes cities that he has visited on his travels, either physically or psychologically fantastical, and all curiously possessing feminine names. However as the tale progresses Khan becomes less convinced that Polo has actually traveled to these places. The reader is suspicious as well, especially as anachronisms creep into the descriptions...The descriptions themselves are beautifully written, each intriguing and as well as self contained. The book is formatted into sections that open and close with dialogue between Polo and Khan, framing the descriptions of the different cities. The descriptions are also tied loosely to one another by their repeating titles: “Cities & Memory 1” or “Hidden Cities 4” for example.Calvino explores not only the idea of the city (what is it anyway?), but uses the city to play with our notion of how we interact with our environment (built or otherwise). Did we create the cities or did they create us?Along the same theme, the cities described seem to represent different parts of our psyches (at least to me). They probe at many aspects of the human experience such as: fear of death, weariness, love, and longing. At the same time, Invisible Cities explores broader dichotomies such as: permanence/impermanence; opulence/squalor; life/death; virtue/sin and truth/falsity. To me, reading Invisible Cities was comparable to having a glass of fine wine. If you are inclined, you could drink it in quickly and eagerly, enjoying its beauty and flavour on one level. However, for me to fully appreciate Invisible Cities, I found it was better to sip it slowly and let the story unravel its complexities and richness as I meditated on the imagery and ideas Calvino presented.more
I read Chapter 1 of this book. And then I had to backtrack. I decided to read all bookends of every chapter instead. These contain imaginary conversations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. This book is very well written. The several variations on the theme of the city are perfect exercises for a powerful writer. It should have been marketed as poetry and not fiction, as each snippet can be considered a prose poem. I decided to forgo reading the rest of it. There's no doubt that Italo Calvino writes beautifully. But in this case, beauty is its own weakness. You will be fed up by the painful beauty of the writing.more
Beautifully confusing. Every time I would read this book I would just fall asleep. It honestly was that tiring for my mind to keep up with the imagery. Eventually I started to walk while I read. While I couldn't walk in a straight line to save my life - I started to see the pictures and understand the meanings of the extremely well-detailed places. I even bought another copy so I could mark notes in the margins of one, but still be able to go back and read with an unadulterated mind the next time.more
This book is extremely difficult to explain. I have been trying to come up with some way to explain its contents without simply cutting and pasting for weeks now, but the challenge is considerable.Is Cities a travelogue? It is, after all, nothing but a collection of short two page descriptions of various cities that Marco Polo has visited while in the great Khan's empire. But none of these cities actually exist, and no traveling actually takes place. Polo and the Khan remain in the same garden, chatting, throughout the entirety of the book. Is Cities a riddle? The so called premise of the book might suggest that. Polo talks of all these myriad places, and the Khan slowly comes to the realization that Polo is not describing cities at all but is talking about something else entirely. However, riddles usually end when the secret is revealed, and the secret here is not the point.What Invisible Cities most resembles in my mind is a collection of imaginative fables, where cities represent all manner of things and their description is a description of the humanity that has built them and lives in them. What I love most about this book is that it is a thinkers book, but at the same time it can be read solely for its imagination and whimsey as well.The greatest strength of Invisible Cities is in its style, so here is a snippit:"For those who pass it without entering, the city is one thing; it is another for those who are trapped by it and never leave. There is the city where you arrive for the first time; and there is another city which you leave never to return. Each deserves a different name; perhaps I have already spoken of Irene under other names; perhaps I have spoken only of Irene."You should pick this book up, read it, and decide for yourself what Marco Polo means by this.more
Love this book. One of the most intelligent books ever imagined and one of the few books by another I truly wish I would have written.more
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