I was home for about two weeks for Diwali holidays. I had purchased a book online – “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” by Italo Calvino. This was my first read by Italo Calvino. I found out about the book on a website which had published an interview with one of my favorite vocalists-cum-frontmen, Keith Buckley of the American Hardcore Punk band “Every Time I Die”. It listed the 5 books he suggests one must read before dying. I read a little bit about the book and I really liked the concept of the book. So I placed an order for it on an online shopping site, where I found the best deal. Luckily the book was delivered to me just a day before I was to leave for my house.

The concept of the book is quite unique. Actually, ‘quite’ won’t be the right word; it’s very unique. Imagine what would you think if I said to you that the protagonist of the book you’re going to read is you, the reader? Interesting, no? This is what the book says. The protagonist is the reader, who goes to a book shop, purchases “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” by Italo Calvino and takes it home to read. But after reading just for a few pages, he finds that there’s a printer’s error in the copy, so he goes back to the shop to get a replacement, where he finds out that another reader, a girl, has got the same problem and she’s come for replacement, too. They meet up in the shop and the reader starts up a conversation with the girl, whom Sir Calvino has mentioned as “the Other Reader”. They get acquainted until the shopkeeper brings there replacement and hands it over to them. The reader asks the other reader for her number, just to keep updated about the new book they’ve got. She hands him her number and they both head home. This is the beginning of their, or, to be more precise, your love story with the other reader.

The reader, trying to track down the original novel, ends up reading ten different novels each one leading to a different one, and each one of them more gripping than the previous one. In this way, the story of the reader and the other reader proceeds, with their quest of finding the real book. The book has ten incomplete novels inside it, which includes a murder mystery, a detective story, a quest, a diary, an erotic story, with alternate intervals in which the story tells what is going on with the reader and the other reader. Finally the reader, in love with the Other Reader, decides to marry her, and the story ends happily (mysteriously happy for me).

Now, talking with the ‘Abhimanyu-the-critic’ point of view (not that I am very good critic, or even a critic), the book was amazing. Although the book was written originally in Italian, I read it in English, obviously because I don’t know Italian, yet. But the translator, I don’t who he is (or was) has done an excellent job. Or maybe, this was Sir Calvino’s translated version only, because the language was unbelievably rich with lots of unheard and even alien words (for me, at least). Plus, the way he described even a little thing, the falling of a gingko leaf, or the marching of the soldiers, or the thunder rumbling above the sea, was just marvelous. Especially the erotic parts, which he described so beautifully; for the first time I came to realize how an erotic scene can be described without using even a single explicit word.

I was very much impressed by the book, so I wrote a good review of it on my Goodreads account. However, another fellow reader, who seems far more experienced a reader than me, had written a bitter review about the book, which I am mentioning excerpt of, here. Although a bit abrasive, her points seem legitimate. She wrote – “It is so fucking sexist, like HELLO! All the female characters in each one of the novels as well as the main novel (that puts the novels together) have all the characteristics of the Other. The female reader is actually called The Other Reader for crying out loud. Even when for a short moment the narration is switched to make the female reader the subject, it is only so that the male reader can run around her flat and describe her and define her – and check this, she is NOT EVEN THERE. Calvino makes her/me the subject for a few pages and she is not even there. She is forever passive. All the female characters are more or less passive. They are also mysterious, intangible and ethereal and their actions usually make no sense to the subject of the narrative (be it the You from the main narrative, or the various ‘I’s from the sub-novels).

If only I understood what she meant to say, I must say, she is true to a great extent. But then, saying that all the female characters are more or less passive, just because they’re mysterious, intangible and ethereal, or, because Calvino’s presenting a male protagonist isn’t right because statistically, women read more fiction than men, isn’t quite justified because, he wasn’t writing a statistics book and if had he portrayed a female as the protagonist, it would have been a bit unfair, as if, only to satisfy the need of the facts (and of women, of course). Apart from this, the novel itself presents the main character as a lesser reader than the female reader, (just like me, and the woman whose review I am talking about here) which satisfies that need anyway, and also portrays him as a more mysterious person, because he hasn’t even been given a name, unlike the Other Reader (who is a female), whose name is ‘Ludmilla’.

No matter how the book was, it still holds a bit more than 4 (out of 5) stars on Goodreads, which is a much appreciable score, like those few top 10 or 15 kids in every class who score in the line of 80 percentage, every time. Plus, it taught me a lot of things, and I am really looking forward to other novels of Italo Calvino, namely “Invisible Cities”, “Cosmicomics” and “Six Memos for the Next Millennium”. And looking above to this entire post, which looks more like a review of the novel itself, I think it’d be better if I name this post on the name of the novel.

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