If on A Winter's Night A Traveler

If on A Winter's Night A Traveler

Book - 1993
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Introduction by Peter Washington; Translation by William Weaver

Italo Calvino's masterpiece combines a love story and a detective story into an exhilarating allegory of reading, in which the reader of the book becomes the book's central character.

Based on a witty analogy between the reader's desire to finish the story and the lover's desire to consummate his or her passion, IF ON A WINTER'S NIGHT A TRAVELER is the tale of two bemused readers whose attempts to reach the end of the same book--IF ON A WINTER'S NIGHT A TRAVELER, by Italo Calvino, of course--are constantly and comically frustrated. In between chasing missing chapters of the book, the hapless readers tangle with an international conspiracy, a rogue translator, an elusive novelist, a disintegrating publishing house, and several oppressive governments. The result is a literary labyrinth of storylines that interrupt one another--an Arabian Nights of the postmodern age.

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1993, c1981.
ISBN: 9780679420255
Characteristics: xli, 254 p. ; 22 cm.


From the critics

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Aug 12, 2020

An amazing book! You, the reader, become a character in this incredible mystery that keeps you turning, excited to find out what happens next. A clever and witty book written by a genius. I loved it.

Jul 05, 2018

I threw this book down after finishing and declared, "This book was dumb." It didn't start out that way, though.

I thought it was pretty clever and interesting with a guy getting a book and starting to read it when suddenly the pages are blank and he has to go try to find the rest of it. Then through a series of circumstances, he has adventures that lead to reading the beginning of ten different books.

In the beginning, I liked the back and forth between an interesting story he was reading and then what was going on to get him to the next book. I found the stories pretty interesting and was sad when they would suddenly end on a cliffhanger. I think my favorite is still the one about the guy obsessed with ringing telephones. About halfway through, it became super meta with an author's diary entry about struggling to write and then lays out the plan for this book. This is when it lost me. I already knew this was happening so it was boring to read it all laid out. Around that time, I also thought there was a decline in the quality of the mini stories and the main story. I couldn't wait for the book to be over since I felt like it was going nowhere.

My other complaint about the book was the relationship between the protagonist and Ludmilla. I didn't ever get the sense that she really liked him so I was confused why they were ever really together. I could tell he was fascinated with her, but she was like most of the women in the book where they were not well written and only seemed to be objects for the men to worship or lust after. Ick.

Apr 09, 2018

How to classify this oddity? The publisher's blurb refers to it as suspense but the only suspense I encountered was waiting for the story to get started. Calvino tantalizes the reader with an interminable game of cat & mouse (or more accurately bait & switch). There may be one story or perhaps two stories -- or possibly no story at all. The book promises a noir-flavored atmosphere, a deserted railway station, a missed connection, a mystery. But what actually materializes in a one-ended conversation, the author breaking the fourth wall every couple of pages, addressing the reader. Calvino, a clever fellow, seemed to be having fun. I wasn't.

multcolib_susannel Feb 04, 2018

Like a fun house mirror this mystery is full of noir-like atmosphere- reflecting back on itself, taking you on one trip after another.

Oct 16, 2017

This is a witty bit of literary surrealism in which ten beginnings of ten different novels are linked by a framing story where "You" (the reader) and the book itself become characters (although it's never the right book). Eventually those unfinished novels become cheap, lurid imitations (supposedly written by machines) and the framing story spins itself into a Kafkaesque (but never quite serious) tangle of totalitarian censorship amid plots within plots within plots - and it comes to resemble those cheap imitations. Throughout, something is being poked fun at, though we're never exactly sure what: perhaps it is the over-intellectualization of literature; perhaps inept publishing companies (did Calvino have to deal with one of those?) or perhaps it's an allegory about bureaucracy. Whatever. I found it amusing, if sometimes frustrating, and parts of it made me laugh out loud. ...and then there's that joke about the titles near the end, which took the entire book to set up...!

Sep 16, 2017

This is more of a tour de force of writing for writers rather than readers. Intriguing at first, it is ultimately as frustrating as it is for the protagonist. try as I could, I gave up before the end.

TechLibrarian Apr 01, 2017

This is not an easy book, but it's a great one, well worth the effort, especially for serious readers. The main character is you, the Reader, as you seek a missing chapter, "traveling the earth from book to book." If that sounds mind bending, it's because it is! Calvino is a literary giant, on par with the likes of Borges and Garcia Marquez. Readers who are interested in trying Calvino but would prefer a lighter read would do well to pick up The Baron in the Trees. If On a Winters Night a Traveler, though, is a real masterpiece.

Jian Feng Wang
Feb 11, 2016

Unfortunately, I didn't make it past the first page.

Mar 19, 2015

A fast-paced, semi-dizziness-inducing kaleidoscopic romp of a narrative. Its so delightful, hallucinatory, and mysterious that it merits a few more re-readings.

Sarah1984 Nov 28, 2014

The blurb on GR makes me think the book is going to be a cross between Robin Sloan's Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore and a book from Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series - books within books, characters aware that they are being read, and a detective story all at the same time. Sounds crazy weird and like a book that a reader's either going to get and love or not and hate. I hope I love it. Here goes... To be continued...

2 mins, 5.5 lines later - LOL! Laughing (in a good way) within six lines must be a record. Here's the passage that set me off

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, "No, I don't want to watch TV!" Raise your voice - they won't hear you otherwise - "I'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!" Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: "I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!" Or if you prefer, don't say anything; just hope they'll leave you alone.

It's uncanny how true to my life this is. With the exact same dialogue. It's almost like this particular edition of the book was written just for me. In fact my dad's watching footy in the other room (I'm in bed with the book and my laptop, but I can clearly the hear the commentary from here) and just a few minutes ago he tried to pester me into staying up and watching it with him. He called out to ask if I wanted to watch the footy and I yelled back no. Then he asked why I didn't want to watch the footy and I replied because I'm reading a new book that I've wanted to read for ages (I didn't mention Calvino's name as he wouldn't have a clue who he is/was). Then he tried to lure me with the fact that it's the family team playing (they've been losing for the last few weeks, maybe months now, so it wasn't much temptation), but to forestall any further conversations held at the top of our voices from one room to another, I ignored this last ditch attempt and wrote the first instalment of my review. He gave up after that. Best opening lines EVER !!
This started out with a bang on my funny bone, which got it an initial four star rating, but once we got past that opening chapter the book just became too deep, too set on some kind of metaphysical message (or something, I really didn't understand what was going on for most of the book). You know me, I often hate (because the book becomes more about the message and less about the story) and generally tend to misunderstand 'messages' and that's what happened with If on a Winter's Night a Traveller. I'm glad I read it, because now I know what the book's about, but it wasn't a particularly pleasurable read and considering the fact that it's only 260 pages it shouldn't have taken me 17 days to read, with a chapter and a number of pages skipped.

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Nov 26, 2014

TheFlyingPig thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


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