If On a Winter’s Night a Publisher

Brings forth the fiftieth and last of its great novels of the twentieth century, a resolutely head-spinning inquisition of a book by Italo Calvino, one that keeps introducing a novel titled If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler. In this, the coldest week in Munich in twenty years, the series not only takes notice of the weather, it refuses to end, spiraling instead into this ouroboros of a book.

Over the last four weeks, the editors have toyed with the readers and the season, jumping from Peter Hoeg’s tale of Greenlanders in Denmark, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, to the hothouse of colonial Vietnam in Margeurite Duras’ slender, tender The Lover, and now, of course, to Calvino’s winter night.

I’ve read not quite 30 of the books in the set; unfortunately, the long ones are the ones that are still to com. Or perhaps fortunately, I’ll be savoring them for longer. But I will miss the sense of making progress through the lot, and the punch of works such as Coup de Grace, Heart of Darkness or Voices of Marrakesh owes a good bit to their compactness, to their verbal and artistic tightness.

I hope to have some more capsule reviews up soon, but to wrap up the series, a few facts and figures.

Male authors: 46 Female authors: 4

Rough geographic origin —
American: Paul Auster, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Patricia Highsmith, John Irving, Carson McCullers, John Steinbeck
Argentine: Julio Cortazar
Austrian: Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke, Arthur Schnitzler
Belgian: Georges Simenon, Marguerite Yourcenar
British: E.M. Forster, Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, Ian McEwan, Oscar Wilde
Canadian: Michael Ondaatje
Czech: Franz Kafka
Danish: Peter Hoeg
Dutch: Harry Mulisch, Cees Nooteboom
French: Marguerite Duras, Julien Green, Marcel Proust, Claude Simon,
German: G?nter Grass, Uwe Johnson, Eduard von Keyserling, Wolfgang Koeppen, Siegfried Lenz, Rainer Maria Rilke, Botho Strau?, Martin Walser
Irish: James Joyce
Italian: Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Primo Levi
Ladino: Elias Canetti (a problematic identification)
Polish: Jurek Becker, Joseph Conrad, Andrzej Szczypiorski
Spanish: Jorge Semprun
Swiss: Friedrich D?rrenmatt, Max Frisch, Hermann Hesse
Uruguayan: Juan Carlos Onetti

Year of publication:
Before 1900: 1 (Dorian Gray; don’t know why it’s in a “20th century novel” list…)
1900-1909: 3
1910-1919: 5
1920-1929: 4
1930-1939: 4
1940-1949: 1
1950-1959: 8
1960-1969: 4
1970-1979: 4
1980-1989: 13
1990-present: 3

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About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

8 thoughts on “If On a Winter’s Night a Publisher

  1. What a let-down for all those who have waded through the first 49 books on the list to find it culminates in this particular piece of self-indulgent clap-trap. Calvino, not least, deserves to be represented by something else.

    PS – since you’ve started, grateful if you could reassign Oscar Wilde to the Irish camp, please.

  2. Can’t agree. If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler is superb, and works better as a novel than most of Calvino’s other works. While I prefer his collections of tales like Marcovaldo and Time and the Hunter, it is I think his best novel. The opening two chapters are just about the best introduction I’ve ever read, and the Flannery section is genius – I’m pretty sure Kaufman “borrowed” it for Adaptation.

  3. PS – since you’ve started, grateful if you could reassign Oscar Wilde to the Irish camp, please.

    And Joyce in Trieste?

    (Which was, perhaps, Austian when he lived there? James Joyce, the world famous Austrian author?)

  4. Technically Ireland was British when Joyce was born (and when he wrote Portrait, Dubliners, Ulysses etc).

  5. Goodness yes, Ginger. Can’t even do a writers’ list without getting tangled in history. Von Keyserling was a Baltic German, now something of a vanished civilization. Canetti was born in Bulgaria, in a Ladino-speaking Jewish family, lived as a young man in Manchester, Vienna, Zurich, Frankfurt am Main and then Vienna again. The Anschluss sent him to Paris and then on to London where he became reasonably famous and lived to the end of his days. And Kafka as Czech? Not very satisfying either, but what can you do?

    The rough list remains very rough indeed.

  6. …and Calvino was born in Santiago de La Vegas, Cuba (where his dad was working at the time), but he was raised in San Remo and died in Sienna…so I guess he’s Italian, but who cares about this? As Doug said, it’s a rough list. I agree with Ginger; “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” is a superb novel, even if you only consider the first quarter of the book. Self-indulgent? Absolutely! Aren’t most great novels that way? Speaking of indulgence, not one mention of Columbia’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Come on, a small bone should have been thrown.

  7. What about:
    Fernando Pessoa,
    Malcolm Lowry,
    Yukio Mishima,
    Robert Musil,
    Yachar Kemal,
    Jorge-luis Borges,
    Lawrence Durrell,
    Alexander Soljhenizin,
    Mario Vargas Llosa,
    Naguib Mahfouz,
    Yasunari Kawabata,
    Vladimir Nabokov,
    Jorge Amado,
    Isma?l Kadare,
    Carlos Fuentes,
    Alejo Carpentier,
    Orhan Pamuk,
    Wole Soyinka,
    Robert Penn Warren,
    Virginia Woolf,
    Miguel Angel Asturias,

    and a few others…

  8. Jacques, well, yes. Exactly.

    Looks like a good list to me; if you can publish them at EUR 4,90 each, I’ll read them…

    (Except maybe Virginia Woolf. And Yukio Mishima; read a couple, didn’t like them in the least.)

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