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Memoir set in New York and Italy (a journey into the story of Italo Calvino)

2nd May 2015

Hermit in Paris by Italo Calvino, memoir set in New York and Italy.

IMG_0016Hermit in Paris is a remarkable tour into Italo Calvino’s political and literary life, fresh and unexpected, at times deep and solemn, at times fun and amusing, and always thought-provoking.

For those of us who know Calvino’s work, some of the concerns he mentions he had during different stages of his career might be surprising, especially considering how confident he always was in presenting out-of-the-ordinary themes, such as in Cosmicomics or The Castle of Crossed Destinies. Because of details such as these, Hermit in Paris is a book that can be enjoyed at different levels: as a writer, because it shows first-hand how one of the greatest literary geniuses of our time evolved during a period of great political trouble to become what he came to be, and his very human side, as he copes with balancing the life he thought he’d lead, the life he chose to fight for, and the life he didn’t know he had until he realised that he was seen as a writer in his own right. As a historian, one might deeply enjoy the detailed description of the different movements that Calvino, his family, and his friends and contacts actively took part in; the poignancy of those historical events might be found just as enticing by certain politicians and by contemporary activists; and, of course, as a reader, most people will surely enjoy Calvino’s word-weaving, just as creative here as it always was in his novels, short stories, and retelling of Italian folktales.

However, if anybody is picking this book up expecting to read about Paris, let me stop you right there! Hermit in Paris is actually a love-song of sorts to New York and a loyal rendition to the beauties of San Remo and Turin, and even the title of the book says it all: Calvino stated that even when he lived in Paris he was never really in Paris, but rather wishing for New York or travelling back home to Italy. But, as Esther Calvino says about Hermit: “As an autobiographical document (…), it seems to me absolutely essential; as a self-portrait, it is the most spontaneous and direct we have.”

She’s right, because only books like these can show us those insightful details that we didn’t know about our favourite authors. For me, it was wonderful to see that the most original stories I have ever read came from a man who valiantly accepts his geographical neurosis; who hated TV cameras because of their ability to nail him to his visibility; who admits that once he was both a Stalinist and a partisan at the same time; who openly admits as well how slow he was in getting to know himself; who loved New York above every other city because he found it to be the least intimidating of all; who had an exaggerated ideal of women that most of us (females) might never achieve, yet fell in love with his wife for being as much a nomad as he was; and who’s probably given us writers the best piece of advice in the world: “…if you don’t experience at least a little bit of fun, you will never write anything good.”

… And that’s only a tiny number of the jewels you will find in this treasure box!

Enjoy your journey into Italo Calvino’s story, and enjoy the glimpses it will give you into his (visible) cities, and their culture, history, pain, delight and freedom in so many levels.

Sandra Tena for the TripFiction Team

Sandra  has been writing novels and short stories for over a decade, travelling far and wide to learn the craft and gain experiences worth writing about. She was shortlisted in two international contests: Voces sin Fronteras II in Canada, and Cada loco con su tema in Mexico, and published in the corresponding anthologies; she’s also got an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University. Her novels, La Sombra Detrás and Wideawake, as well as a short story collection titled Cuentos de la Azotea (currently being translated into English), can be found on Amazon Kindle. Born in Durango, Mexico, she has chosen to become a citizen of the world. Sandra lives in Glastonbury with her partner, actor and playwright Stephen Cole, where she’s writing Iar, the first novel of a five-part YA fantasy saga entitled Pentacle, besides putting together a second collection of short stories. When she’s not writing, she’s reading everything humanly possible given the shortness of Earth days; learning about history, myths and magic; watching TV shows and movies that make her laugh and think; and enjoying the company of the people she loves, both face-to-face and by the virtue of current technology.

You can follow Sandra on Twitter

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    Posted on: 14/12/2016 at 4:41 am

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  2. User: aditi3991

    Posted on: 06/05/2015 at 12:46 pm

    Such an alluring title and the book sounds quite interesting! Great review Sandra:-)


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