“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” — from Invisible Cities
In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo — Mongol emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts his host with stories 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. As Marco Polo unspools his tales, the emperor detects these fantastic places are more than they appear.
“Invisible Cities changed the way we read and what is possible in the balance between poetry and prose . . . The book I would choose as pillow and plate, alone on a desert island.” — Jeanette Winterson
At its most basic level, Calvino's novel is a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, as the former describes the fantastical cities and landscapes he's visited during his explorations. Of course, this is severely understating the scope of Calvino's book, which at times feels like a novel, at times like a travelogue about a voyage to mysterious and imaginary places, and at times like a series of puzzles. John Lee is the perfect performer to depict the disorienting nature of Calvino's masterpiece. Lee has become the go-to narrator for stories with unusual structures and ideas he previously narrated China Mieville's The City & the City and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. In this audio edition, Lee's clipped, accented elocution encapsulates the mystery that permeates the novel's numerous settings. But Lee also adds interesting details throughout his reading for instance he beautifully captures Marco Polo's charisma and showmanship as he crows about his findings to Khan. Despite narrating a book with no discernible plot, this is a truly entertaining and electrifying performance. A Harcourt Brace Jovanovich paperback.
Worth repeat readings
I've had and given away at least half a dozen copies of this book over the years. I find it entertaining even without delving deeply, but it rewards repeated reading. Delighted to now have a copy that I can carry with me at all times, even if I cannot give it away.