“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.”
Invisible Cities by Italian writer Italo Calvino in 1972 and translated to English by William Weaver. Set as the conversation between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, the readers get to explore the cities through the descriptions by Polo. In boundless imagination, I visited each city and envied the Venetian explorer.
In this series of stories, fifty-five fictitious cities are told in intricately exquisite proses. These cities are divided into eleven categories of five each: Cities & Memory; Cities & Desire; Cities & Signs; Thin Cities; Trading Cities; Cities & Eyes; Cities & Names; Cities & the Dead; Cities & the Sky; Continuous Cities; Hidden Cities. Through extravagantly elaborated narrative, the reader will learn each city and its geography, climate, culture, language, its people, etc. Polo’s shares his experience and blends in his opinions about the cities while he reports to the great Mongol emperor.
Reading this book is a very imaginative process. Well, reading itself is a work of imagination but as I read about each city, I am sauntering around the streets or sometimes soaring across the sky of these fictional cities. The ornate storytelling enhances the imagination experience, too. However, it also challenges me cause I find it confusing at some points. That could probably be my unfamiliarity with such complex narration.
I picked this book after reading a short story of Ken Liu, the Bookmaking Habits of Select Species. It was a very interesting piece and hence, inquisitively (as usual) I looked up online and found an interview with the writer. Ken Liu said he referenced Calvino’s narrative in Invisible Cities to write that story. It piqued my interest. From town to town, from one sea port to another, through mountains and valley, rivers and forests, I roam around these cities.
Many regard this book as a travelogue or a travel literature. Some consider that this is Polo’s homage of his beloved city, Venice and some believe it is Calvino’s representation of multi-faceted New York with fifty-five fabricated cities. For me, as much as I get the travel experience, I’d like to think Calvino’s wrote 55 characteristics of different women partly because the names of all fifty-five cities are women’s names. I could be deviating from the author’s original intention. Regardless, it is quite a mesmerising journey you can have while you locked inside your house can can’t travel anywhere. Just let your imagination go wild!