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Italo Calvino:
Letters, 1941-1985
Italo Calvino
Selected and with an introduction by Michael Wood
Translated by Martin McLaughlin

One of The Guardian Best Books of 2013, chosen by Pankaj Mishra
Selected for the SFG Gift Guide 2013

This book is out of print


This is the first collection in English of the extraordinary letters of one of the great writers of the twentieth century. Italy's most important postwar novelist, Italo Calvino (1923-1985) achieved worldwide fame with such books as Cosmicomics, Invisible Cities, and If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. But he was also an influential literary critic, an important literary editor, and a masterful letter writer whose correspondents included Umberto Eco, Primo Levi, Gore Vidal, Leonardo Sciascia, Natalia Ginzburg, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Luciano Berio. This book includes a generous selection of about 650 letters, written between World War II and the end of Calvino's life. Selected and introduced by Michael Wood, the letters are expertly rendered into English and annotated by well-known Calvino translator Martin McLaughlin.

The letters are filled with insights about Calvino's writing and that of others; about Italian, American, English, and French literature; about literary criticism and literature in general; and about culture and politics. The book also provides a kind of autobiography, documenting Calvino's Communism and his resignation from the party in 1957, his eye-opening trip to the United States in 1959-60, his move to Paris (where he lived from 1967 to 1980), and his trip to his birthplace in Cuba (where he met Che Guevara). Some lengthy letters amount almost to critical essays, while one is an appropriately brief defense of brevity, and there is an even shorter, reassuring note to his parents written on a scrap of paper while he and his brother were in hiding during the antifascist Resistance.

This is a book that will fascinate and delight Calvino fans and anyone else interested in a remarkable portrait of a great writer at work.


"[C]onsistently absorbing and suggestive. . . . [T]he chronicle not only of Calvino's intellectual development but of postwar Italy's. . . . The letters in this book deal with great subtlety, sophistication, and wit, and occasionally even a certain cynicism, with challenges that might have overburdened a less mercurial, multifarious, essentially sane spirit."--Jonathan Galassi, New York Review of Books

"The image of Calvino as postmodernism's light-footed prince follows easily. But, behind that image, who was Calvino? The publication of a considerable selection of Calvino's letters affords an opportunity, or many opportunities, to ask that question anew."--Lawrence Norfolk, Wall Street Journal

"[T]here is no writer alive who resembles . . . Calvino. So the appearance of a selection of Calvino's letters in English is a moment of happiness. . . . [T]hese letters offer a gorgeous portrait of Calvino in the midst of his own productivity: as an editor, a reader, a critic, an inventor of new literary forms. And they allow the reader to investigate the complicated background from which those strange forms emerged."--Adam Thirlwell, New Republic

"Superbly translated by Martin McLaughlin, these letters place Calvino in the larger frame of 20th century Italy and provide a showcase for his refined and civil voice. . . . Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 is a charming addition to the Planet Calvino--a place cluttered with sphinxes, chimeras, knights, spaceships and viscounts both cloven and whole."--Ian Thomson, Guardian

"[F]ascinating. . . . A vastly entertaining collection, meticulously edited and annotated."--Peter Sirr, Irish Times

"Italo Calvino's letters . . . provide . . . pleasure and surprise. . . . In them he shines as an editor of obvious brilliance and a writer of lavish gratitude towards those who appreciate his work."--Vivian Gornick, Prospect

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File created: 4/17/2014

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