Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985
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This is the first collection in English of the extraordinary letters of one of the great writers of the twentieth century. Italy's most important postwar novelist, Italo Calvino (1923-1985) achieved worldwide fame with such books as Cosmicomics, Invisible Cities, and If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. But he was also an influential literary critic, an important literary editor, and a masterful letter writer whose correspondents included Umberto Eco, Primo Levi, Gore Vidal, Leonardo Sciascia, Natalia Ginzburg, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Luciano Berio. This book includes a generous selection of about 650 letters, written between World War II and the end of Calvino's life. Selected and introduced by Michael Wood, the letters are expertly rendered into English and annotated by well-known Calvino translator Martin McLaughlin.
The letters are filled with insights about Calvino's writing and that of others; about Italian, American, English, and French literature; about literary criticism and literature in general; and about culture and politics. The book also provides a kind of autobiography, documenting Calvino's Communism and his resignation from the party in 1957, his eye-opening trip to the United States in 1959-60, his move to Paris (where he lived from 1967 to 1980), and his trip to his birthplace in Cuba (where he met Che Guevara). Some lengthy letters amount almost to critical essays, while one is an appropriately brief defense of brevity, and there is an even shorter, reassuring note to his parents written on a scrap of paper while he and his brother were in hiding during the antifascist Resistance.
This is a book that will fascinate and delight Calvino fans and anyone else interested in a remarkable portrait of a great writer at work.
tone. These personal allergies of mine do not prevent me from admiring the vital heart of the book in the big shelter full of refugees, the possibility of happiness in the midst of the catastrophe, and the sense of the passing of time in that life, like when Useppe feels the place has become different after the departure of the Thousand. I wanted to put down these impressions of mine because they seem to me to be different from what I have read so far about your book in the papers, things with
decision—basically thank goodness the telephone is broken.25 Best wishes, Calvino [Handwritten; with the addressee’s heirs.] TO NATALIA GINZBURG—ROME Paris 6 Nov. 77 Dear Natalia, I’VE READ “BORGHESIA” AND I LIKED IT A LOT TOO, BUT NOT AS much as the other story, it hasn’t got its music, its density, its enjoyment.26 Here what emerges very clearly is the meaning of the place that animals have in the emotional void of life today, the function of animals as a substitute for what has been
each instance this kind of narration carries with it echoes of readings that have remained in my memory. In short, my prime intention was not to mimic or parody anyone. Certainly, when I wanted to convey the revolutionary-existential atmosphere of so many Russian or German novels of the 1920s and ’30s, Bulgakov’s The White Guard was an obvious point of reference. In the same way, in setting my “erotic-perverted novel” in Japan I thought of Kawabata and Tanizaki; and in setting the
would ever have thought of criticizing him. He would have killed two birds with one stone: socialist realism ‘of the new type’ and personal freedom. He would have his place in the sun instead of seeing it from behind bars. That little place in the sun that is always there for those who happily don’t give a damn about truth, socialism, man, and in general, everything (except of course ‘literature’).” For Calvino’s defense of Gadda’s Il pasticciaccio (That Awful Mess on Via Merulana), see the next
and wonders of Marco Polo. He must not be a comic character but rather a romantic-ironic figure, who has to be taken seriously just for the fact that he embodies the insatiability of the new times etc., the yearning in the face of the riches of the world, the sense that nonetheless everything turns to dust, that hidden in that Oriental world there must be some secret truth which he does not understand, and yet etc. etc. His father and uncle Polo are the two Sancho Panzas of the situation, two