In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo - Tartar emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts the emperor with tales of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities. Soon it becomes clear that each of these fantastic places is really the same place.
©1972 Giulio Einaudi Editore (P)2013 Tantor
"Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of a marvelous invention like Invisible Cities, perfectly irrelevant." (Gore Vidal)
Less a book than a series of prose-like poems, where language seems a magical tool that paints landscapes and cityscapes not confined by just what is known or possible. The words flow through your mind and spark the imagination, leading the listener on a guided imagery trip through worlds that seem suspended in another dimension and time. It is like a fabulous dessert -- it needs to be experienced, savored, and languished over. Originally published in 1972 with a cover that depicted a city of stone towers that rise from a large floating rock above an ocean; a picture that teased and hinted at what was inside (I still own my original dog-eared copy). There is no plot -- but plot seems irrelevant as you listen to Marco Polo conjure up cities that float between webs, joyous carnival cities, serious cities where no one makes eye contact or speaks, cities that you won't be returning to, "this is a city just for leaving," all to entertain the aging Kublai Khan. He creates his own cities that might dwell in his empire, asking Polo if he has seen these in his travels. You ponder the meaning of the words as they are used in this game between the two men, as well as the structure of the cities and their purpose. Reading this was wonderful; listening is another experience altogether. Close your eyes and experience a journey. Very short, just over 2 hours; something I will leave on my ipod and listen to again, like a beautiful and creative guided meditation.
This is an outstanding book and performance. The language is so rich that I listened to certain portions more than once since it was hard to take everything in on the first pass.
Mountain biking, surfing, skiing, literature, philosophy, psychology, theology and my ipod.
Having just read Invisible Cities by Calvino today, just about everything is at least swirling in newness of possibilities, like Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, or Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's travels.
I'm still in the rabbit hole, and don't know what I may have been smoking.
The story is of tales of cities visited by Marco Polo, as told to Kublai Khan. Sounds simple, but we realize that Marco Polo is the experiential adventurer in the world, while Kublai Khan is the intellectual summarizer of Marco Polo's experiences. Well, even that is up for grabs in the end, as who has the handle on reality--the adventurer or the intllectual?
At one point, Kublai Khan has reduced everything to nothing more than a chess game, black versus white, but in so doing, he looses all meaning. Then there is Marco Polo who has many adventures to report, but are they real, or just strung together experiences of illusion?
These philosophical positions are not new, but the experience of them is in the way that I like to be challenged by the new.
The audio books I get tend to be either 1) scifi or 2) things for my husband and me to listen to on long road trips--humor or history
Don’t read this book.
Don’t read it if you have any illusions of being able to write decently yourself. Because you will immediately realize that you will never, ever be able to write even one sentence that is half as beautiful as any sentence written by Calvino.
Don’t read it if you think you’ve ever had an original idea for a story. Because if you live to be 1,000 years old, you will never think of anything as unique as the ideas in this collection.
Don’t read it if you want things you read to be neat and tidy. Because rather than a tight plot with a clear beginning, middle and end, this is a series of loosely connected concepts and philosophical ideas that is closer to Waiting for Godot than it is to any science fiction you have ever read.
This little book blew my mind. I can’t wait to read it again.
[I listened to this as an audio book impeccably performed by John Lee.]
Invisible Cities is a perfect book, endlessly beautiful and thought-provoking. It can be read many times and you'll find new jewels in it every time.
I usually like John Lee, but he reads this book too quickly. It needed to be treated as poetry more than prose. Eventually I discovered that if I slowed the playback down to x0.75 speed my experience was much improved. It made Lee sound a little pompous, but at least he now seemed to be savouring every word. This is my advice to you!
Told through a conversation between Kuala Kahn and Marco Polo of Polos journeys and the lands he discovered both real and imaginary.
John Lee as always does a fine job with the narration of this beautifully disruptive world.
It is a story of life and death of Heaven and hell.
Highly recommend to those who have read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis and the Devine Comedy by Dante.
What an amazing, intricate, linguistic dream of a book! It wraps a multitude of possible cities into an amalgam of Borgesian proportions. The narrator is both perfect and too dry by half.
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