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The Path to the Spiders' Nests (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 28 May 2009
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'An insight into the making of a European' Observer 'The crucial novel of Calvino's early years' Mail on Sunday
About the Author
Italo Calvino, one of Italy's finest postwar writers, has delighted readers around the world with his deceptively simple, fable-like stories. He was born in Cuba in 1923 and raised in San Remo, Italy; he fought for the Italian Resistance from 1943-45. His major works include Cosmicomics (1968), Invisible Cities (1972), and If on a winter's night a traveler (1979). He died in Siena in 1985.
Martin L. McLaughlin is Professor of Italian and Fiat-Serena Professor of Italian Studies at the University of Oxford where he is a Fellow of Magdalen College. In addition to his published academic works he is the English translator of Umberto Eco and Italo Calvino among many others.
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The plot is fairly simple: a young boy from a chaotic household has to flee after being arrested for stealing a pistol from his sister's German "client." (He was trying to impress the ineffectual drunks in his usual hangout, a smoky and dilapidated bar, and then gets caught up in the resistance.) All the time, he is lonely and desperately seeking a special companion, someone to love and take care of him. It is not a heroic tale, but one about what it was really like in the resistance: more about the pauses and boredom, the bad food and promiscuity, the strange thoughts by men risking their lives for murky as well as clear-cut causes - the socialist revolution or to rid their countryside of the Germans who steal their cows. This is a new and fascinating view, told with great wit and style. This is the first novel I read in Italian, and its vocabulary is difficult but wonderfully succinct and clear.
Our story takes place in Italy during the Second World War. The boy Pin lives with his sister, who is known locally as the town whore. Pin is a bit of an outcast and the other children don't really play with him, so he hangs around with the adult inhabitants. Due to this he picks up some fruity language, gossip and ideas about sex, some of which he doesn't really understand. On the whole he is a bit lonely, usually quite cheerful though, cheeky, a practical joker and always singing.
Whe he is goaded into stealing a German's pistol that his sister sleeps with things take a darker turn. With the Germans rounding up people and looking for the gun he is incarcerated. Escaping with a partisan member he is soon free though, and he is led into the world of the resistance.
This is a good tale about growing up, albeit due to circumstances a bit quicker than would be normal, and how war of any kind can change a person. It is interesting reading this to see how Calvino completely changed his style and content over the years and will be of interest to those who are into his works. Interestingly enough, when this was first published in its original form it was a bit of a bestseller and went on to win the Premio Riccione.
The Spider's nests, or so he believes, is where he stores a gun that he stole from a German soldier in an attempt to be accepted by the older people. Pin is a tragic character; he has no parents and lives only with his prostitute sister, whom later turns into a German aide. To understand the book, I feel, you have to understand Italy's role during the Second World War, and the economic state of the country, whilst occupied by Germans. Calvino, also, writes candidly about the role of Italian Neo-realism, brought about after the fall of Mussolini - and that theme of the poor and Working Class people of Italy is certainly evident within this novel.
This is a sad but funny book which I'm sure most people will enjoy.