Italo Calvino: If on a winter’s night a traveler

August 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

I sensed at once that in the perfect order of the universe a breach had opened, an irreparable rent.

It has been too long since I read If on a winter’s night a traveler for me to be able to summarize the plot without reading the whole book again. It consists of ten different novels with different plots and authors, and two different Readers who tries to reach the end of these novels-within-the-novel, but who always are interrupted before doing so. The Reader/s tries to find the missing parts of the story, but end up with counterfeits or completely different books.

At the same time you want to ask Cavedagna if he can immediately let you read In a network of lines that enlace by the pseudo (or genuine?) Flannery, which might also be the same thing as Looks down in the gathering shadow by the genuine (or pseudo?) Vandervelde. (p. 131)

In some parts of the novel, as in the quote above, the reader is represented in the story with the pronoun “you”. But in other parts the story is narrated by an “I”, an author, and the reader is there referred to as “the Reader”/”he”, in third person (the second Reader, is a “she”).

I have received a visit from a Reader, who came to submit to me a problem that upsets him: he has found two copies of my book In a network of lines that et cetera, identical on the outside but containing two different novels. One is the story of a professor who cannot bear to hear the telephone ring, the other is the story of a billionaire who collects kaleidoscopes (…)
“These valleys teem with odd characters,” I said to him, to calm him. “don’t give that book any more thought, sir; you haven’t lost anything important: it was a fake, produced in Japan. To exploit illegally the success that my novels enjoy in the world, an unscrupulous Japanese firm disseminates books with my name on the cover which however, are really plagiarisms from little-known Japanese authors of novels that, having had no success, were sent to be pulped. After much investigation, I have managed to unmask this fraud of which both I and the plagiarized authors are the victims.”
“Actually, I rather liked that novel I was reading,” the Reader confesses, “and I regret not having been able to follow the story to the end.”
“If that’s your only problem, I can tell you the source: It is a Japanese novel, summarily adapted, with Western names given to true characters and places. The original is On the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon by Takakumi Ikoka, an author, for that matter, who is more than worthy. I can give you an English translation, to compensate for your loss.”
I picked up the volume, which was on my desk, after sealing it in an envelope, so he would not be tempted to lead through it and thus would not immediately realize it had nothing in common with In a network of lines that intersect or with any other novel of mine, apocryphal or genuine. (p. 194-196)

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