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If on a winter's night a traveler

If on a winter's night a traveler


by Italo Calvino

Analysis: Setting

Where It All Goes Down


Buckle your seatbelt because your travels in If on a winter's night a traveler will take you to a chalet in Switzerland, then to South America, and then to an unnamed city that could be, well, anywhere. Oh, and while this is all going down, you also read a series of letters that outline Ermes Marana's travels between Japan and Africa. Whew—we're jetlagged just thinking about it.

Reading this novel might be exhausting, but even as the setting shifts, we notice that each of the ten fictional novels within the book seems to fully absorb each new location. What do we mean? Just think about how the novel Outside the town of Malbork has a very eastern European feel to it, while Around an empty grave is heavily South American in its vocabulary and tone. And check out the chameleon-like work of Calvino as he shifts styles in the Japanese novel, On a carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon, whose opening line reads: "The ginkgo leaves fell like fine rain from the boughs and dotted the lawn with yellow" (61.1).

One last thing before we send you on your way around the globe. The setting of If on a winter's night a traveler has a way of leaping out of the book itself and becoming part of your reality—you as the main character, that is. Remember the opening lines of the mini-novel If on a winter's night a traveler, which describe how "steam from a piston covers the opening of the chapter, a cloud of smoke hides part of the first paragraph" (2.1)? Yep, that's steam from a piston that's being described in the book coming out onto the page itself.

In all of these ways, the changing setting tends to reflect the general instability of the story itself. It's hard to tell what's real and what isn't or to remember where in the world you are at any specific point. So yeah… good luck.

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