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4.3 out of 5 stars62
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on 30 August 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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on 14 February 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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on 27 October 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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on 3 January 2007
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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on 15 September 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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on 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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on 15 July 1999
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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Invisible Cities on Kindle

This book recounts conversations between the trader and explorer Marco Polo and the emperor Kublai Khan, about real and imagined cities. The book follows a strict mathematical structure, but it is decidedly unrealistic, at times a poetic and brilliantly described past, at times contemporary elements are dropped in. It is reminiscent of the Peter Greenaway short film A Walk Through H, and is perhaps best read as an elegant musing on the nature of cities and imagination.

Reviews of this book tend to fall into two camps, on the one hand it is a brilliant piece of writing that should have earned the author a Nobel Prize, on the other it is a formless pretentious piece of ostentatious modernism that just does not work.

I rather fall between the two camps, I read the whole book in half a dozen sessions, but my reaction alternated between the above two extremes. My initial impressions were amazement at just how good it was, the next time I read it, I was wondering just what had impressed me about it. It is certainly an impressive piece of writing, sitting with Pale Fire (Penguin Modern Classics) and A Void as bold experiments. However for most readers the test of a bold experiment is whether it remains readable, for me The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,Bad Day for the Sung Dynasty,The Following Story (Harvill Panther), and The Book of Sand and Shakespeare's Memory (Penguin Modern Classics) are equally bold but ultimately far more compelling. But each to their own, this is well worth reading, and it is the classic piece of modernist literature on cities.
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"Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening..."

So writes Italo Calvino, in one of the more ethereal experimental books he wrote. While not as weird as a book made up of tarot card adventures, "Invisible Cities" is a story that defies easy classification -- it's soft, dreamlike narrative in which one man tells another about the magical cities he's seen. Or, possibly, has not seen.

The famous Venetian explorer Marco Polo arrives in the empire of Kublai Khan, and the two men become friends. In the evenings, Marco tells the Khan of many fabulous cities -- the grey metal and stone Fedora, the stilted Zenobia, the haunted moonlit Zobeide, the sensual and bejeweled Anastasia, the cloud-straddling Baucis, the watery Esmeralda, a city of dead people known as Adelma, the dirt-choked Argia, the hazy rose-tinted Irene, and many others.

"Invisible Cities" isn't really a story so much as a series of beautiful pictures-in-prose. It's like we're watching Calvino paint us portraits of his fantasy cities with his words -- and except for Kublai Khan and Marco Polo occasionally conversing about trade, travel or chess, there is no actual plot here. It's just gorgeous portraits of imaginary cities.

And therein lies its charm. Calvino came up with dozens of fantastical cities in here. Few if any of them could actually exist, but they are so suffused with sensual beauty ("its villas all of glass like aquariums where the shadows of dancing girls with silvery scales swim...") and darkness ("All corpses, dried in such a way that the skeleton remains sheathed in yellow skin, are carried down there, to continue their former activities...") that you don't care.

Instead, Calvino comes up with strange, weird and illogical ideas, such as a city with ho actual buildings, but lots of plumbing. There are cities of the dead and the unborn; cities of the sea, the air, the earth and the sunrise; cities where everyone is a stranger and steampunk cities rusted into oblivion. It's like he's opened a hundred doors to eerie other worlds, and let us take a single picture of each before the doors close.

"Invisible Cities" is not a book for people who like plot -- instead, it's a chance to immerse yourself in Italo Calvino's magical language and imagination.
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on 18 October 2009
Once a creative work is released there is nothing more it's creator can do, it is now with it's audience to make of it what they will, that is if they take any notice of it at all. Some will like it, some will dislike it, some will find it "good", others "poor". One thing is certain, there is no universal right or wrong response, mine is as personal as another's and no-one can really say what the response ought to be.

That's a long-winded way of saying that Invisible Cities will, I am sure, elicit a full range of comment, it is that sort of work; enigmatic, stimulating, elusive and gobbledegook may all figure somewhere. Calvino certainly gives me pause for thought; I come back to it again and again, reading short passages and finding new ideas and feelings emerging. It is peaceful and does not make demands but subtly seeks to make me think.

Marco Polo is a traveller who has visited many cities; Kublai Khan is a ruler of many cities but who seems to know none of them and he encourages Marco Polo to recount his impressions of them so that he may wonder and question. It is all a device; none of it is real, this strange concoction of ancient and modern. Beneath all the layers of smoke and mirrors presented as a world of magical cities lies just one reality, of past splendours and dreams that are now lost and cannot be reclaimed.

I love it.
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