Italo Calvino enthralls his audience by spinning vivid descriptions of “invisible” cities. He uses the medium of culture, narration and imagination to convey the conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Kublai Khan being the mighty emperor demands that Marco Polo account his journeys around the world. What transpires after, is a treat to one’s mind. For Marco Polo speaks of Cities & Desires, Hidden Cities, Cities of the Dead and various such notions, categorically emphasizing the key aspects of different cities he has been to.
I wanted to like this book so much so that I re-read the first few pages over again. Its beautifully written, no doubt. The various cities he names capture your attention and move you to think about the similarities they possess. Many of the cities were magical and several others had a dystopian feel to them. But what didn’t sit well with me is the direction of the narration. Clearly these cities he described were only in his imagination or seemingly gathered from the other places he had been to. Talking about such non-existent cities didn’t serve any obvious purpose. I think I tried too hard to find meaning where there was none or maybe my interpretations were all awry. But I just didn’t get this book. I got the cities, individually, understood what they represented. But were they just for holding Kublai Khan’s attention? Having read chapters of other fictional books, that had a clear cut beginning and end, I found it difficult to process this one. The writing style is different, the form of the book is unique. They are sectioned as Cities & Memory, Cities & Desire etc. The distinction is clear too but for what aim? Was he just pitting different ideas against each other to see how Khan would react? I had more questions than should be, towards the end of the book. Loose threads that didn’t get tied. Perhaps I ought to read up more on the context of this book before I give it another try. Which I am determined to do as almost everyone else has given this book a 5 star rating. I suggest you try it, because its very different from what is usually written.
Ratings – 2 stars on 5.