Invisible Cities

by katystreet

By Italo Calvino.

I bought this book a long time ago at a used book store but only just got around to reading it years later. Each chapter is a series of short vignettes about cities, bookended with a description of the scenes between emperor Kublai Khan and explorer Marco Polo. The cities are all conceptual, like a city that is built in the air, hanging between two mountain peaks, or a city which is designed based on the experience of chasing someone through a city but never catching them. They’re little ideas about life: a city that decrepit and disgusting but has momentary shines of beauty, or a city that attempts to exterminate all the bugs only to make room for imaginary creatures.

In the conversations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, some of which are imagined conversations, it becomes apparent that Marco Polo is describing the same city over and over again, picking out a piece of it to explore each time.

I read the book shortly after Trump won the 2016 USA presidential election. I found it calming and peaceful, almost meditative. The story doesn’t go anywhere, it’s more like a painting with a gestalt that becomes stronger and stronger as you read more.