Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities

Paperback(First Edition)

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Overview


“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.” — from Invisible Cities

In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo — Mongol emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts his host with stories of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities. As Marco Polo unspools his tales, the emperor detects these fantastic places are more than they appear.

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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780156453806
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 05/03/1978
Series: Harvest Book Series
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 72,194
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile: 1290L (what's this?)

About the Author


ITALO CALVINO (1923–1985) attained worldwide renown as one of the twentieth century’s greatest storytellers. Born in Cuba, he was raised in San Remo, Italy, and later lived in Turin, Paris, Rome, and elsewhere. Among his many works are Invisible Cities, If on a winter's night a traveler, The Baron in the Trees, and other novels, as well as numerous collections of fiction, folktales, criticism, and essays. His works have been translated into dozens of languages.

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Invisible Cities 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 64 reviews.
christy_wooke More than 1 year ago
Really good. I was hesitant at first because it seems very academic, but I loved it. It's a supposed conversation between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo about cities they've seen (or not).
Guest More than 1 year ago
Calvino uses Marco Polo and Kublai Khan in a way to discuss the 'real' reality. Are the cities real? Are the characters real? I had a grin on my face during the entire read. Recommended to those who enjoy the surreal.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Easily the first book by Calvino I would recommend to someone. Simply his most lyrical, enchanting book, hands down. Not only is it worth a read simply to enjoy the images he evokes through incredibly spare prose, but the ideas he suggests through the dialogue between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo are philosophically intriguing, as well.
lit-in-the-last-frontier More than 1 year ago
INVISIBLE CITIES by Italo Calvino ??? I so wanted to love this book, but it took me over two months just to finish it despite its short length. That is not to say it was all bad! Calvino's structure is that of Marco Polo recounting for Kublai Khan brief vignettes about various cities and towns through which he has supposedly passed on his travels. I couldn't help but marvel at the sheer imaginative power it must have taken to create so many places, and I give props to Calvino for that. In addition, his prose is wonderful, with paragraphs frequently taking unexpected twists at the end. Many sentient points about human nature-points which transcend time and culture-were subtly inserted, and lent the book an added soulful element. Two things gave me grief. First, despite the marvelous variety of locales, an entire book of city descriptions grew redundant very quickly. The author's creativity and prose carried me happily through about the first six or eight cities, and then the subject matter began to flag. The second aspect was the magical realism employed in the book. Mention of objects such as sky scrapers, carousel horses, and underground trains, which did not exist in the era in which the book was written, offended the historian in me. Rather than fantastical, they just felt like poor fact checking to me. By the end of the book, entire modern cities, in countries yet to be discovered, began appearing in Kublai Khan's atlas; it all rang very inconceivable to me. I have decided that books in which characters travel back in time and bring modern knowledge and objects with them delight me, but books in which knowledge of technology and modern devices appear long before their advent simply feel jarring. Had I read one of these pieces, individually, in a magazine or blog, I would likely have been full of compliments. For the most part, the book simply did not work for me because it was too much of the same.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How to describe "Invisible Cities"? Mosaics, jewels, impressions, photo shots, treasure box, puzzles,... A reader has to bare her chest in order to wear in the exquisite language and magical realistic rhetoric Italo Calvino has produced in this little book.
Janus More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to love this book. When I started reading it I wanted to just devour it and be able to declare Italo Calvino one of my favorite authors. When I read the synopsis' for his novels I find myself intrigued by them all. Unfortunately, this book is a bit of a let down. Calvino was a smart author. Perhaps too smart. I'm not a stranger to metaphysical concepts but at times I got the distinct impression that the only person who knew what Calvino was talking about was Calvino. I felt like the actual meat of the book was found in the segments featuring Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, which were few and took up about twenty pages total. I will also mention that Calvino's writing style is very soft. He is a talented writer, but his way with words had a tendency to put me to sleep, even during two page chapters. Coming from someone who enjoys classic literature, that is really saying something. Though I think I will try to read perhaps one more of his books, I can safely say that Italo Calvino is not my new favorite author. Even Gore Vidal couldn't describe this book (though I have a feeling he had no idea what happened but just didn't want to admit it). If you're feeling extremely experimental and risky, then by all means give this book a shot, but if your mind is prone to wandering while reading then perhaps you should read something else.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Calvino had an enchanting fantasy which allowed him to paint images like the ones you can find in this book. Every city has the name of a woman and it's described as a living creature, with its inner contradictions and limits but also its creativity and desire to live.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Invisible cities is a study of the aesthetic and ideal that makes one believe that humanity's contribution to the universe is to build and create dreams.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Calvino's writing is magical. Of all the books I've read by him, this might be my favorite. A vision of what is invisible in cities, in life.
P_S_Patrick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is quite short, and didn't take me long to read. Some people will probably think that its insubstantial, but it benefits from reading slowly, and taking time to think about what the passages mean. Some parts made me think, but I suspect that you could read it at several levels. I probably missed some of the meaning, but even if you just understand what is written superficially you will probably enjoy it. I will probably get more out of it upon successive readings.
rores28 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I've read all year. It's philosophical, it's beautifully written (translates well), and its presented in a unique fashion that separates it from the stock form of the medium. Calvino is simultaneously subtle and surreal, and though this book was short I found myself putting it down after every chapter to reflect and process what I had just read. A book that can be reread over and over not just to disentangle more of the mystery but for the aesthetic render of the prose. (though I feel as if I am slighting the writing by referring to it as prose)
plenilune on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a muse. It is a textured inspiration, a stunning work of imagination, multidimensional. It is a vital part of any writer's library, or that of any dreamer, any artist, any creative person; something you can come back to and draw from again and again.
weeksj10 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is not my favorite Calvino, but that is only because his other books are SO wonderful. This one was good also, but it doesn't compare to a lot of his work. However, it is a beautiful book, this master author has an amazing gift for description, and here he achieves an amazing feat by showing us a series nonexistent cities that are really every city. Give it a try, but if you don't love it don't write Calvino off, give him another chance.
janemarieprice on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Plenty of other much better reviews but I just wanted to leave a few comments. I loved this. Calvino has a way of nailing down the feelings that places engender in us through descriptions of any number of things ¿ the buildings, a ritual, entrance. I¿m going to go back and reread in a different order and will have more comments then.
jddunn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A master playing with the power and joy of permutation and imagination. Short sketches of glorious, fantastical cities, given depth and reality by the fundamental human traits and ideas from which they are extrapolated. City as organism city as vessel = city as Mind
annbury on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A strange and beautiful book, in which Marco Polo describes a series of cities to the emperor Kublai Kahn. The report of each city is very brief, and the reports are grouped by theme and in nine sets. Before and after each set, there is an interlude, describing the communication of Polo and the Kahn. At first the description of each city seems a single, short, fantastical tale. But taken together they become like a carillion that begins with one bell, then grows more complex as another bell and then another joins in, until the whole thing melds into patterns too intricate to analyze. The book is half way to poetry: I expect to read it again and again.
bragan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ostensibly, this consists of a series of conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan in which Polo describes to the Khan the cities he's encountered in his travels. But the descriptions are all abstract, dreamlike, metaphorical, and strange. There are cities that are not the same city when you arrive as when you leave, cities with mirror images that exist above or below or inside themselves, cities whose histories are endlessly cyclical, cities that are built entirely of symbols, or memories or desires. These descriptions aren't about cities as concrete objects so much as they are about the idea of cities, about human perceptions, about... Well, it's hard to always know exactly what they're about. Often the meaning is obscure, which can be slightly frustrating, but is also rather wonderful: this feels very much like the kind of book you can come back to over and over and always find some new insight in it.
BooksForDinner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found myself rushing through the rest of this towards the end. Some very pretty language, but it got a little tiresome after a while. I'm sure that this is a work of genius and all, he is widely regarded as one, but he lost me a bit. Sad. I'll have to try another.
ofstoneandice on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Brilliant. I'll be reflecting back on these cities for the rest of my life.
TerryWeyna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Yes, I know that this book is widely considered a masterpiece. Yes, I loved If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, and count it among one of my favorite books of all time. No, I did not care much for Invisible Cities. I can admire this book on an intellectual level: for instance, its structure is fascinating in and of itself. Different categories of stories march up and down in number sequence and are replaced by other categories as they run out of examples. And the cities all seem to have the names of women. You¿ll be fascinated by the conversations between Kublai Kahn and Marco Polo about the philosophy of cities, ultimately questioning their very existence outside of their imaginations. But this is a cold book, a book to admire without loving it, an experiment in form and language that does not coalesce into a story. It reminded me a good deal of Alan Lightman¿s Einstein's Dreams, which to me contains more life and heat ¿ more poetry, perhaps ¿ despite its unconventional structure. Despite my misgivings, however, I came away from Invisible Cities determined to read more of Calvino¿s work. I¿ve now read one book I loved to distraction, and another that fell entirely flat. It makes me very curious about how I¿ll react to, say, Difficult Loves or The Baron in the Trees.
bokai on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is extremely difficult to explain. I have been trying to come up with some way to explain its contents without simply cutting and pasting for weeks now, but the challenge is considerable.Is Cities a travelogue? It is, after all, nothing but a collection of short two page descriptions of various cities that Marco Polo has visited while in the great Khan's empire. But none of these cities actually exist, and no traveling actually takes place. Polo and the Khan remain in the same garden, chatting, throughout the entirety of the book. Is Cities a riddle? The so called premise of the book might suggest that. Polo talks of all these myriad places, and the Khan slowly comes to the realization that Polo is not describing cities at all but is talking about something else entirely. However, riddles usually end when the secret is revealed, and the secret here is not the point.What Invisible Cities most resembles in my mind is a collection of imaginative fables, where cities represent all manner of things and their description is a description of the humanity that has built them and lives in them. What I love most about this book is that it is a thinkers book, but at the same time it can be read solely for its imagination and whimsey as well.The greatest strength of Invisible Cities is in its style, so here is a snippit:"For those who pass it without entering, the city is one thing; it is another for those who are trapped by it and never leave. There is the city where you arrive for the first time; and there is another city which you leave never to return. Each deserves a different name; perhaps I have already spoken of Irene under other names; perhaps I have spoken only of Irene."You should pick this book up, read it, and decide for yourself what Marco Polo means by this.
wirkman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An elegiac survey of an imaginary empire: the human soul.
Playr4JC on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beautifully confusing. Every time I would read this book I would just fall asleep. It honestly was that tiring for my mind to keep up with the imagery. Eventually I started to walk while I read. While I couldn't walk in a straight line to save my life - I started to see the pictures and understand the meanings of the extremely well-detailed places. I even bought another copy so I could mark notes in the margins of one, but still be able to go back and read with an unadulterated mind the next time.
josh.oconner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Invisible Cities provides an abstract if not surreal vision into the many perspectives of the city. Set as conversation between the infamous Marco Polo and Kublai Khan Invisible Cities documents Marco Polo's vivid and imaginative descriptions of the cities that he has seen. Author Italo Calvino provides many philosophical musings regarding the nature of Marco Polo's travels and brings to question the very essence of existence and our conceptions of place. Marco Polo's descriptions of cities are remarkable. He tells of each city not only through the lens of his own personal perspective, but he goes to great lengths to describe how the residents in each place understand the city and what emotions they attach to their location. As he recalls each city Marco Polo manages a certain detachment through which he describes the movement of each city's residents as if they were ants occupying an ant hill. Calvino creates a complex mental puzzle in the conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan that forces the reader to come to grips with the transient nature of physical space. As Invisible Cities progresses the reader becomes aware of the different emotions and conceptions that we all attach to cities and places and how our feelings can transform the physical manifestations of those places into an entirely different existence than what others experience. Calvino is poetic in his descriptions of splendor and ruin. Invisible Cities is worth reading for the descriptive language alone. Marco Polo's descriptions make his places come alive and create a truly immersive experience through the use of Calvino's powerful imagery.
gonzobrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Though exceedingly short (166 pages), Invisible Cities by author Italo Calvino is so densely constructed that it takes just as long, if not longer to understand, much less even finish the book than it would normally with a three hundred page novel. Indeed, after finishing Calvino¿s work I¿m convinced I¿ll have to read it again just to even be convinced that I even read it in the first place.But I think that sentiment speaks somewhat to the essence of the work itself. Briefly stated, Calvino¿s work is based around the visitations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, specifically their time spent in conversation about the cities Polo has traveled between in the great Khan¿s empire. The Khan, you understand, needs his amusement.But as we progress through each of Polo¿s travels, we are increasingly forced to consider whether Polo is giving us the whole story, whether he actually has been to the distant places he so ably illustrates, whether they even exist at all. Fascinating is the interplay between Kublai Khan and Polo; was Calvino creating a dialogue among historical equals, or was Polo dangling a metaphorical carrot before the flummoxed Khan in an attempt to be clever or save his own skin?Calvino, sadly no longer among us, equally confounds with his imagery in questioning just what exactly constitutes a city. His writing definitely fits the classification of fabulist lit, similar to magical realism, in which surreality takes center stage. It is a grand labyrinth, a philosophical conundrum that Calvino so artfully evokes.