Summary: 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. (Summary from book; image from www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com)
My Review: There are some books that are hard to review because they are hideous literary messes, and one doesn't know where to begin panning them. There are others books that are hard to review because they push one's buttons, making a fair appraisal of them difficult. And there are some books that are hard to review because they are too carefully constructed, too subtly and delicately worded, too grand in insight and application, for one possibly to do them justice.
Italo Calvino's masterful Invisible Cities is one of the last sort of books. I could discuss the intricate, dream-like structure of the short episodes and reveries that build the book like the bricks of one of its cities; the jewel-like clarity and poetry of the language; and above all the way the author, like a skillful magician, peels back the veils of our prosaic reality to reveal something far more beautiful, dangerous, and alive--I can tell you about these things, but I'd rather shut up and let the book speak for itself.
My Rating: 5 stars. It's a mercy this book was originally in Italian, lest it be dragged through the muck of every English Literature course and ruined for everyone.
Sum it up: Poignant yet playful, and ripe with insight. Short enough to read in a night--but do yourself the favor of reading it slowly!