If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler: a book to experience

Italo Calvino takes you on a meta journey of finding his story within his story

(Image courtesy of Mariner Books.)

By: Maxwell Gawlick

You pick up a new novel, but the pages are out of order. You pick up a new copy, containing only the first chapter, but that chapter makes you desperate for the next. You search for the next chapter and wind up on an adventure to uncover the scattered tale. This is the idea behind Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.

     Set in the fictional country of Cimmeria between World War I and II, Calvino’s novel is a surreal adventure with a frame-story style that always keeps the story fresh. It’s split into two alternating perspectives. The first follows “you,” the reader, and your search to find the next chapters of the mysterious book If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. You soon meet the source of the second perspective: another “you,” a woman, who is another reader with the same goal as you. Together you pursue the inescapable story. The other sections explore these chapters themselves, but each chapter is the beginning of a new tale, unrelated to the last. Each chapter ends unresolved, and you constantly yearn for answers.

     Calvino’s writing is descriptive and detailed, but its fluidity prevents it from becoming flowery. The characters feel real, and it’s all too easy to get lost in them and feel like you’re experiencing the adventure yourself. The writing is easy to get into, but it becomes increasingly complex as you read between the lines. It’s the sort of book you lie awake at night considering. It’s impossible to forget, and less a book to read than to experience. Experience it.