Monday, June 23, 2014

If on a winter’s night a traveler: Final Review

This must have been the most deceitful book I have ever read in my life: If on a winter’s night a traveler. From the unique title I must have realized that this won’t be a regular thing. It’s an unfinished sentence; plus it was obviously written as an ordinary sentence, without capital letter on each word, as a title should usually be written. I have also read several reviews and a few analysis, and all of them promised an extraordinary reading experience from Signor Calvino. So, I encouraged myself to read it, together with several other bloggers. And what an adventure we have had for about two weeks!

Calvino addresses us in the form of his main (male) protagonist, The Reader. He uses second person point of view, which made it felt like he is talking to me, who was reading the book, personally. The Reader has just bought the new novel from Italo Calvino: If on a winter’s night a traveler. It’s about a man who arrives at train station in a “mission”. He is instructed by his ‘organization’ to meet someone (a connection) but somehow he missed it. I knew instantly that it would be a conspiracy-thriller. However, as the story reached the most exciting part, the Reader found that his copy was somehow mixed with the signatures of another novel. He went to the bookstore to complain, and got an ‘unspoiled’ copy as a replacement. However, when he opened the book, it turned out to be a different book. He was disappointed, but he was interested in this second book as well. So he read it anyway. But the same thing happened, the second book ended abruptly, and when he wanted to get the unspoiled copy, again, he got another novel.

The incident repeated for ten times, which forced our Reader to read ten different unfinished novels in the process of getting the complete one. During his quest for the right books, he met a Second Reader, a girl named Ludmilla, a passionate reader like himself. He got attracted to her, but just like his desire to read books with complete ending, his desire to possess Ludmilla’s heart for himself was blocked by some incidents; which—interestingly—was also connected to his book quest.

This is indeed an extraordinary book! Only a genius writer could create many plots which are entangled to each other like this. And if you read all of the novels—unfinished, though, they are—you’ll see that Calvino is a great story teller. Even when I knew that my reading would end abruptly in a few chapters, I still enjoyed the stories. My favorite was perhaps “Around an empty grave”—well, I always have a soft spot for the Indians, I think….

Our question at the end must be: what did Calvino wrote this complex book for? After having a thorough analysis I believe Calvino had two big messages to convey regarding the literary world. He criticized readers who read innocently, only for satisfying their desire, without trying to dig deeper into what the author tried to communicate. Calvino analogized it with the ‘void’—he mentioned this word many times—below the words in books. He also alerted us that in some point readers are not as free as they think; that there are the hands of the publishing industry who are controlling our reading behavior. We deal with it in different way. The Reader confronted them directly; while Ludmilla refused to join him because she didn’t want to know about any aspect of the book but the story itself. While Irnerio—Ludmilla’s friend—chose to stop reading at all. But in reality, none of them were actually completely free; not even Irnerio, who, instead of reading the books, produced handicraft using books as the media.

I believe there are more in this story than what I have been analyzed; one of them is feminism issue, which I sensed within the book (in Lotaria’s seminar, as well as dominant female in several of the novels). There are also the thoughts of erasing past consequences (zero moment), and restart from zero. What was it? I don’t think I would ever find out the answer, as this book, for me, is not the kind that I would like to reread someday. No, this is a unique book, and an extraordinary reading, but once is surely enough!

Three and a half stars for Signor Calvino!


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