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Invisible Cities (Vintage Classics) [Paperback]

Italo Calvino , William Weaver
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Oct 1997 Vintage Classics
In Invisible Cities Marco Polo conjures up cities of magical times for his host, the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan, but gradually it becomes clear that he is actually describing one city: Venice. As Gore Vidal wrote 'Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of a marvellous invention like Invisible Cities, perfectly irrelevant.'

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (2 Oct 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099429837
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099429838
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,208 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Italo Calvino was born in Cuba in 1923 and grew up in Italy. He was an essayist and journalist and a member of the editorial staff of Einaudi in Turin. One of the most respected writers of our time, his best-known works of fiction include Invisible Cities, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, Marcovaldo and Mr Palomar. In 1973 he won the prestigious Premio Feltrinelli. He died in 1985. A collection of Calvino's posthumous personal writings, The Hermit in Paris, was published in 2003.

Product Description


"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)

"Whole chapters of unforced poetic prose in which insight and fantasy are perfectly matched-an exquisite world" (Observer)

"'Invisible Cities is perhaps his most beautiful work-the artist seems to have made peace with the tension between man's ideas of the many and the one" (New York Review of Books)

"The most beautiful of his books throws up ideas, allusions, and breathtaking imaginative insights on almost every page. Each time he returns from his travels, Marco Polo is invited by Kublai Khan to describe the cities he has visited-Although he makes Marco Polo summon up many cities for the Khan's imagination to feed on, Calvino is describing only one city in this book. Venice, that decaying heap of incomparable splendour, still stands as substantial evidence of man's ability to create something perfect out of chaos" (Paul Bailey Times Literary Supplement)

"Of all the Italian post-war novelists, Italo Calvino is the adventurer. He glitters, impersonal, brilliant and lasting" (Financial Times)

Book Description

'A subtle and beautiful meditation' Sunday Times

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece 14 Feb 2001
A book that describes every imaginery city, every city that you have ever visited, every city that you have ever wanted to visit or imagine, or the city you have come from which you wish to be as you imagined it to be...this is a book about the language of the imagination, a book of cities as pychological states, physical states, sensory states...A book about descriptions ? Yes. But descriptions that have a transcendant quality. Not much narrative ? True, but yet they contain fragments of narrative that have an extraordinary quality, about place, and what place means to us all. Calvino was a truely great novelist, one of the great European novelists of this century, on par with Beckett..yet less bleak, no less universal. This is one, if not the best, of his "books". If you like this also try "If on an invisible night" and "Mr Paloma".

If you like to combine "thought-provoking" with sensual - a very unusual and wonderful combination.
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece 27 Oct 2006
This book is a masterpiece for me. It accompanied me throughout a long journey that I took in Europe in the past. It is written in a poetic way that makes you think, reflect and enter into the fantastic world of the invisible cities of Kublai Khan's empire, created by Calvino. Marco Polo works for the Khan. He has to visit many towns of the Mongolian empire so that later he can share his impressions with the great Khan. This is mainly because the empire is so big that Kublai Khan would never be able to visit all towns of his empire.

Each chapter has the name of a town, which is described by Marco Polo. In addition, there are many dialogs between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo that are, in my point of view, the most exciting part of the book. The dialogs are so intelligent and stimulating that I read some of them many times. They can trigger our natural curiosity about the way we see things around us, the future, the past, the present, etc. It is a book to be read in a slow pace so we can reflect upon each part. It helped me to slow down my frequently rushed rhythm of life. How conscious are we while we write the pages of our lives?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best. His Best. A Masterpiece. 30 Aug 2009
Don't believe the hype. I know that Calvino became famous in the States with If on a Winter Night... but this is his real masterpiece. Witty, poetic, visionary, elegantly written (and well translated). Calvino's idea of a city, or of the possible cities. The dream of cities, whatever we can find in cities. It's a deep book, it's an engrossing reading, it's a dream, it's a tale, it's a yarn, it's absolutely true. To me, this is the book that Calvino was born to write, and the one you have to read to really understand why Calvino will remain.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly Sublime 10 May 2004
Before reading this novel, you must note one thing - there is no plot whatsoever. Despite what the blurb says about Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, that is simply a framework, a structure to hold a series of highly impressionistic descriptions of cities together. The book covers a remarkable range of ideas - death, life, religion and relationships to name but four. However, the lack of plot does not make it any less worthwhile nor any less literary - the prose is lush and poetic, lucid and evocative, and it would be hard not to be captivated by Calvino's remarkable style. Inventive, enlessly imaginative, extremely experimental, Calvino created a beautiful and memorable book - in effect, Calvino wrote the plotless novel.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
This is truly the work of a genius: Calvino's imagination here exceeds the normal limits of poetic prose, and the beauty of this book is near limitless.

However, it is possible that you will not feel the same about this book if you have never visited Venice. Calvino's beloved city is described hundreds of times over in "Invisible Cities", and for me each description was equally accurate, beautiful and stirring - so anyone without a knowledge of the manifold charms of Venice may miss the point of this book entirely, through no fault of their own.

So, since this book struck me on a particularly personal level, it's not necessarily recommended to all.

Oh, and on a point of information, I thought this was almost infinitely better than "If on a Winter's Night a Traveller...", which I found to be rather gimmicky and contrived. For me "Invisible Cities" was neither of these.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
If you have ever experienced the magic of a city, here is a book that can guide you to its source. "Invisible Cities" contains some forty short sketches of arbitrarily named fantastic cities, placed in an order that is both meticulous and rambling. The sketches are put in the framework of a very loose dialogue between Marco Polo, who is the narrator of the sketches, and Kubla Khan, his impatient one-man audience. Frankly, I found the dialogue rather contrived at points, and not all the sketches manage to convey emotion along with the intellectual play of words. In my opinion, this is the chief problem with all Calvino's prose, and the problem is far less conspicuous here than in some of his other work. Definitely worth your attention if you like philosophical novels, or fantastic literature.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For the daydreaming traveller 15 Sep 2010
I am only partway through Invisible Cities but, because I am a bit of an odd ball, I decided to type it into google and see what people had to say about it (you know theories, ideas, reviews and the like)and felt compelled to make a review having read some.

For me there is something so hauntingly beautiful about Calvino's words that it really gets under my skin. There's something that really gives the gut a good twist with this book that evokes a strange mix of longing for the future and helpless nostalgia for the past.

For me.

I understand why some won't like this book. There's no definite plot, no heros to follow, just an aimless drifting through some potentially non-existent cities broken up by some narrative between two men, possibly high and possibly not even speaking to one another. I can understand that it is boring for some; that it doesn't have much point, even that it can come across as quite pretentious.

What annoys me is that some of those who have turned their nose up at this book seem to feel that all the other reviewers who have read and enjoyed it are all rather pretentious and are desperately attempting to appear more well read and intelligent than they are.

Why? Because it's under Vintage Classics??

I know I'm not particularly intelligent or well read, and to be honest I don't really understand it, I just enjoy the words.

I agree that this is not ideal for those looking for a conventional story...or well, a story at all. However this isn't just a book for 'polite folk;' if you enjoy travelling, or dream of travelling, or are just stuck floating along somewhere and you like beautiful imagery I'd definately recommend Invisible Cities. The only thing that has prevented me from giving it a five star is that I haven't finished reading it yet....

Smiley face.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Mental Traveller
In this marvellous, jewel of a book, Marco Polo describes for Kublai Kahn the cities of an imagined East. Marco's desciptions are short, fantastic, anachronistic and allusive. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Ian Brawn
5.0 out of 5 stars great read
this is a great little read. I reccommend reading this on the plane on route to a distination, helping you think about your new city
Published 12 months ago by BB
5.0 out of 5 stars Always love a good classic
A short but sweet book, Calvino goes through so many faces of cities and does it very engagingly. Would definitely recommend to friends interested in urbanism and something a bit... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Kaiyi Gu
1.0 out of 5 stars Buyer beware
It's short. Marco Polo recounts his adventures to Kublai Khan without a common language. Cue a raft of descriptions of cities with made-up names. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Officer Dibble
5.0 out of 5 stars Enojoyable Journey
I had to get this book for a course I was taking at the University, and I have to admit that almost 7 years later I still go back to it and stay there for hours and even days! Read more
Published 19 months ago by infectedbubble
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius
Even though it struggles in the final chapters this is a truly outstanding work encompassing so much that to each reader a new city will given and experienced. Read more
Published 21 months ago by gardenboy
4.0 out of 5 stars discovery
wow! a great discover by traveler marco polo.
fascinating book . i might well read it till the journey ends thanks
Published 21 months ago by S8CARE
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book!
I had to buy this book for a university creative writing course, and I have to say I'm a total convert to Italo Calvino and will be looking out for his other books when I'm done... Read more
Published 24 months ago by Isobel
2.0 out of 5 stars I think I missed the point on this one
First off, I love Calvino. If on a winters night ... is a masterpiece!

Unfortunately, I just couldn't see the point in this one, which is not to say I got nothing out of... Read more
Published on 11 April 2012 by Mike N
5.0 out of 5 stars Completely Beautiful
Invisible Cities is an utter masterpiece. Very nearly completely plotless, simply a collection of short passages describing fifty-five Fantastic cities, framed by the dialogue... Read more
Published on 21 Dec 2011 by Monday
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