If I’m to choose a single book to take with me on a long trip, it would be Invisible Cities. Why? Because I can re-read this slim tome any number of times and always find something new there. They say that the writer creates only half of the book, the other is created by a reader during an act of reading. Invisible Cities proves this by never being the same, by reflecting your state of mind in the endless labyrinths of the fictional cities.
When you gush about a book to your friends, they always ask you what it is about. And in the case of Invisible Cities, I can’t find an answer. On the surface, it’s an account of Marco Polo’s endless travels, as he recounts them before Kublai-Khan. The Khan wants to know what life is like in different corners of his endless empire, and Marco is never out of stories. The famous traveler’s unique perception of the cities he visits wakes the reader’s wanderlust and reminds her of the awe and urgency of traveling. Take this passage, for example: “You return from lands equally distant and you can tell me only the thoughts that come to a man who sits on his doorstep at evening to enjoy the cool air. What is the use, then, of all your traveling?” Beautiful, right?
This explanation only scratches the surface, though. Soon you come to realize that it’s not traveling Calvino is speaking of, or at least not only traveling. What then? Anybody’s guess… I’d say that some of the themes of the book are the tricks of our perception, complexities of memory, debates about semantics, questions of what constitutes the truth or if there is even such a thing as truth… Several explanations of the stories’ meaning are provided by Marco and Khan themselves, but is it Calvino’s hint to the understanding of his metaphors or another trap? I bet everybody will see something personal and draw their own conclusions from the endless meanderings of Marco Polo’s imagination.
The most important traveling of all happens inside us, but we can’t observe the changes unless they are reflected in something external. I would take Invisible Cities with me on a long trip to see how the meaning of the same stories change as I progress, showing me how I myself change.