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Vaporous Shapes

Tim Parks: Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘Whereabouts’, 1 July 2021

by Jhumpa Lahiri.
Bloomsbury, 176 pp., £14.99, May, 978 1 5266 2995 1
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... for books like this in Italian literature: collections of short pieces by Natalia Ginzburg or Italo Calvino – or Cesare Pavese’s Among Women Only, another novel in which a cool protagonist is both drawn to and repulsed by the intensity of sexual relationships. But the complete immersion in Italian culture evident in Ginzburg, ...

Have you seen my hand?

Tim Parks: Rodari’s Toys, 18 March 2021

Telephone Tales 
by Gianni Rodari, translated by Antony Shugaar.
Enchanted Lion, $27.95, September 2020, 978 1 59270 284 8
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... So much for the heroics of De Amicis’s Risorgimento children.In 1952, Rodari wrote to Italo Calvino, then an editor at the Einaudi publishing house, proposing a critical work on Pinocchio. The book’s ‘ties with reality’, he claimed, ‘are deeper and more complex’ than those of Cuore. It captured the child’s ‘need of freedom’ as ...

Embracing Islam

Patrick Parrinder, 4 April 1991

Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991 
by Salman Rushdie.
Granta, 432 pp., £17.99, March 1991, 9780140142242
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... he should also give pleasure. Rushdie writes engagingly and lavishly about the comic fantasies of Italo Calvino, author of ‘the most outrageous fiction about fiction ever conceived’, who tells us ‘joyfully, wickedly, that there are things in the world worth loving as well as hating.’ Rushdie’s own novels tap the same vein of surrealistic ...

Ludic Cube

Angela Carter, 1 June 1989

Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel in 100,000 Words 
by Milorad Pavic, translated by Christina Pribicevic-Zoric.
Hamish Hamilton, 338 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 241 12658 4
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... and reassembles them in attractive, and sometimes new, ways. And that’s how formalism was born. (Italo Calvino, the most exquisite of contemporary formalists, is also, it should be remembered, editor of the classic collection of Italian fairy-tales.) Pavic advises the reader to behave exactly like a traditional storyteller and construct his or her own ...

Mae West and the British Raj

Wendy Doniger: Dinosaur Icons, 18 February 1999

The Last Dinosaur Book: The Life and Times of a Cultural Icon 
by W.J.T. Mitchell.
Chicago, 321 pp., £25, November 1998, 0 226 53204 6
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... in a word, macho. The Calvinosaurus comes to us neither from the Protestant theologian nor from Italo Calvino (who wrote a wonderful story about dinos), but from the fantasised macho alter ego of Calvin in the cartoon Calvin and Hobbes: bigger than his parents and named after himself (as Andrew Carnegie named the Diplodocus Carnegii). As for the other ...


John Lanchester, 21 October 1993

United States 
by Gore Vidal.
Deutsch, 1298 pp., £25, October 1993, 0 233 98832 7
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What Henry James Knew, and Other Essays on Writers 
by Cynthia Ozick.
Cape, 363 pp., £12.99, June 1993, 0 224 03329 8
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Sentimental Journeys 
by Joan Didion.
HarperCollins, 319 pp., £15, January 1993, 0 00 255146 2
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... lived to memorialise (in essays in this book) his friends John Kennedy, Tennessee Williams, Italo Calvino, Orson Welles, Eleanor Roosevelt, Anaïs Nin ... In this kind of summary Vidal’s life sounds almost comically glamorous and eventful. One of the secrets of his social and professional success lies in the combination of class circumstances ...

She’s a tiger-cat!

Miranda Seymour: Birds’ claw omelettes with Vernon Lee, 22 January 2004

Vernon Lee: A Literary Biography 
by Vineta Colby.
Virginia, 387 pp., £32.50, May 2003, 0 8139 2158 9
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... best of the ghost stories have remained in print. Richly exotic and fanciful, they were admired by Italo Calvino and Isak Dinesen, among others. Calvino’s favourite was ‘Amour Dure’, the story of Medea da Carpi, a Renaissance woman whose beauty destroys those who aspire to love her. ‘A Wicked Voice’, loosely ...

President Gore

Inigo Thomas: Gore Vidal, 10 May 2007

Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir, 1964-2006 
by Gore Vidal.
Little, Brown, 278 pp., £17.99, November 2006, 0 316 02727 8
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... tours of French restaurants with his editor Jason Epstein, conversations with his Roman neighbour Italo Calvino, lunch with E.M. Forster, chat with Princess Margaret. But in Rome there were only months of reading, and Old Glory. Few people have identified themselves as closely with the history of their own country as Vidal has – General de Gaulle ...

Once upon a Real Time

Wendy Doniger, 23 March 1995

From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers 
by Marina Warner.
Chatto, 458 pp., £20, October 1994, 0 7011 3530 1
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... life’. She begins with an observation about differences between two specific male tellers, Italo Calvino (who ‘reveals the porousness of stories to their tellers’ temper and beliefs’ and whose telling is ‘bright with energetic rebellion and peasant cunning’) and the Grimms (‘eerie, volatile, and curiously unfocused socially and ...

Not to Be Read without Shuddering

Adam Smyth: The Atheist’s Bible, 20 February 2014

The Atheist’s Bible: The Most Dangerous Book That Never Existed 
by Georges Minois, translated by Lys Ann Weiss.
Chicago, 249 pp., £21, October 2012, 978 0 226 53029 1
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... books that do not exist, often with bibliographical exactness: it continues in the fictions of Italo Calvino, Douglas Adams, Roberto Bolaño and Mark Z. Danielewski, among many others. The Polish science fiction writer and author of Solaris, Stanisław Lem, wrote long introductions to four imaginary books in Imaginary Magnitude (1973) and a whole ...

Poker Face

Eric Hobsbawm: Palmiro Togliatti, 8 April 2010

Palmiro Togliatti: A Biography 
by Aldo Agosti, translated by Vanna Derosas and Jane Ennis.
Tauris, 339 pp., £51.50, 1 84511 726 3
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Il sarto di Ulm: Una possibile storia del PCI 
by Lucio Magri.
Il Saggiatore, 454 pp., €21, October 2009, 978 88 428 1608 9
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... members or fellow travellers. Both Giulio Einaudi, at the time the finest publisher in Europe, and Italo Calvino formed part of the guard of honour at Togliatti’s funeral. Significant left-wing groups hostile to the PCI eventually emerged from the student movement of the late 1960s, of whom the terrorists of the Red Brigades were the most notable. It is ...


Marina Warner: Baba Yaga, 27 August 2009

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg 
by Dubravka Ugrešić, translated by Ellen Elias Bursác, Celia Hawkesworth and Mark Thompson.
Canongate, 327 pp., £14.99, May 2009, 978 1 84767 066 3
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... in fact combed earlier collectors’ records, and, like the Brothers Grimm before him and Italo Calvino later, patched and pieced and retold and revoiced the material. During the Soviet era, as Ugrešić has said, the use of traditional material gave writers freedom because it appeared to conform to the populist and nationalist policies of the ...

I’m hip. I live in New York

Theo Tait: Leonard Michaels, 3 March 2016

by Leonard Michaels.
Daunt Books, 131 pp., £9.99, June 2015, 978 1 907970 55 9
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... A classic,​ according to Italo Calvino, is ‘a book that has never finished saying what it has to say’. I have read Sylvia by Leonard Michaels four or five times and I still don’t feel that I’ve got to the bottom of it. First published in 1992, it is a novel disguised as a memoir, or a memoir disguised as a novel, based on the author’s first marriage, to Sylvia Bloch – a love affair that began in Greenwich Village in 1960 ...

On His Trapeze

Michael Wood: Roland Barthes, 17 November 2016

Barthes: A Biography 
by Tiphaine Samoyault, translated by Andrew Brown.
Polity, 586 pp., £25, December 2016, 978 1 5095 0565 4
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... for guru – ‘but something like the master of a workshop, a master worker, a master artisan’. Italo Calvino said Barthes’s field was the science of the single object, the art of generalising where only the particular was in play. This was ‘the great thing that he – I do not say taught us, because one can neither teach nor learn this – but ...

Bye-bye, NY

Ange Mlinko: Harry Mathews’s Fever Dream, 18 March 2021

Collected Poems: 1946-2016 
by Harry Mathews.
Sand Paper Press, 288 pp., $28, February 2020, 978 0 9843312 8 4
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... the Oulipo were some of the most illustrious names in European literature: Perec, Raymond Queneau, Italo Calvino. Their goal was to revitalise literature via gamesmanship, and to create new forms using mathematical methods. Mathews was awed to be in such company but alert to the elitist and sexist optics. ‘Literature and game playing, literature as game ...

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