Book Review – If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino (1979)

If on a Winter's Night A Traveller My Rating : 5 of 5  ||  My Review on Goodreads  ||  More About The Book  ||  About The Author

Push me not, not right now, Frozen feet is all I have;
Shine me not, not right now, Calming dark is all I have;
Correct me not, not right now, Impelling doubt is all I have;
Wake me not, not right now, Breathing dream is all I have.

Long ago, when I jotted down this poem, I was amidst a whirlwind of events: my final year exams were impending, my heartache was fresh, my best friend had left the city and my muscle tear was repaired but still throbbed a bit. So, I had little to rejoice about and more importantly, little time to take stock of the situation. And like always, I fell back on the only way of redemption I knew: writing. When I sat down to write, words came to me like a storm; malicious, malevolent, spiteful in their fury. I took the gust on my diary with audacity. But like most storms, the gust lasted only a few minutes. And then, lull. Nothing. No matter how much I wracked my brains, nothing would ever reach me again, not until I placed a new idea in the terrain. Once I did that, the storm engulfed me again, like a magnetic attraction to a new target, but like its predecessor left me empty within minutes. And so, the cycle continued and I, after numerous efforts, cowed in and ended up writing just these eight lines.

Not as timid as me, of course, Calvino drew much constructive fury from his various storms. And so, we got this masterpiece of laborious love, the kind that only a true passion for story-telling can kindle. Simply put, it is a story of a Reader (which is you) who starts reading a book after buying it from a bookshop and after reading a few pages, finds the rest of pages missing . He goes back to the bookshop to return the defective copy and instead, get the correct one. And from there, he enters into the nebulous world of jumbled up versions of books, book jackets, authors and yes, fellow readers. He finds at the end of each brief investigation, a new book in his hand, which although has a link to the earlier book, contains nothing of the earlier book. Yeah, does not make sense? Calvino would be happy to do the honours.

Like every key on the piano, when pressed and left, sets a discerning vibration that lingers on if we put our ears to it, each of his stories leave a trail of restless rambling of cells inside, frantic to join the dots. And although the next note draws us in with a renewed vigour into its throes, the previous note still makes its fledgling presence felt, somewhere in our pits. So, we are never out of the song, although the notes that make it, continue to live their own lives. And the beauty of Calvino lies in his mastery of making them all look like ingrained in the same song, much like how a single family can define its members, who in themselves, have different passions and pursue different lives.

The stories are immensely engaging, sparkling with wit and imagination. In one, we are the allies of two murderers who are disposing off a corpse while in another, we are witness to a man, obsessed with phone rings. There is erotica on Japanese soil and adolescent feud in Polish alleys. My favourite, though, tough to pick, was “in a network of lines that intersect”. This was an unusual story of a man, attempting to foil a murderous attack on him and his beloved, by drawing fake circles of protection around him and her by using the virtues of catoptric instruments. Of course, the pinnacle of this rollercoaster ride lied in the penultimate chapter, where all the stories converge like they were all headed for no other destination. His ingenuity hits at the end, soft and easy though, since by now, I already know my mind has had one of its best walks ever.

His very style of writing is so spell-binding that I was often at loss to answer the question of what I enjoyed more; the heart of the stories or the way the stories were told. He almost does a confession of presenting us just the tantalizing beginnings of the stories and not their fascinating ends when he says:

“I have pondered my last conversation with that Reader. Perhaps his reading is so intense that it consumes all substance of the novel at the start, so nothing remains for the rest. This happens to me in writing; for some time now, every novel I begin writing is exhausted shortly after the beginning, as if I had already said everything I have to say.”

He talks to us like we are right in front of him; the Reader, probably, would have never felt so close to an author he/ she was reading.

There are times when I finish a book, take a mental flight, reach the author, look in the eyes and say, Thank You. I can still feel the vibration of the last two words in my mouth.

One_winter_night

 

[Image courtesy static.splashnology.com ]

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