Study Guide

If on a winter's night a traveler Chapter 11

By Italo Calvino

Chapter 11


  • And once again, the narrative cuts off at the most interesting part.
  • You look up from the photocopies you were just reading on Cavedagna's desk. You are suddenly overcome by the same fear that kept Ludmilla away.
  • Looking around the room, you see books as a bunch of spare parts that can be put together in different ways. You can no longer entertain the fantasy that a book is a single finished object with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
  • Mr. Cavedagna returns, claiming that all of the manuscripts associated with Ermes Marana have disappeared. All he has left of the man are the strange letters Marana has sent the publishing house. You demand to see these letters immediately, needing to know more about this man who has ruined so many reading experiences for you.
  • You discover that the letters have been mailed from all over the world. Some letters even refer to incidents in other letters that were written after them, which seems impossible.
  • Marana appears to be working for a Cimmerian publishing company in South America. In one of his last letters, he tells Cavedagna that he holds the rights to publish a novel called In a network of lines that enlace by a bestselling Irish crime writer named Silas Flannery.
  • In another letter, Marana explains that this book has not been entirely written by Flannery. Rather, he collected the unfinished manuscript from Flannery, assuring the man that a computer could complete the work in the same way he would have. But when Marana took the unfinished work onto a plane, he was accosted by a group of young commandos with machine guns.
  • It seems that Marana has some sort of bond with these commandos. His plane was offered a place to land by a slightly humane dictator, and next thing Marana knew, he was living under some lean-to in the middle of the desert.
  • It turns out the commandos were from the Organization of Apocryphal Power, which Marana actually founded. The commandos wanted to kill him, but President Butamatari, the dictator of an African nation, took Marana under his protection.
  • Butamatari eventually gained possession of the Flannery manuscript and vowed to return it to Silas Flannery if the author would write a "dynastic" novel celebrating Butamatari's efforts to annex the territories surrounding his country.
  • From further letters, you discover that Flannery has had some sort of spiritual crisis that keeps him from writing anything. He can only write the beginnings to novels before he becomes paralyzed. Geez, kind of like us normal folk, right?
  • You go on to read about several women implicated in Marana's adventures. The more you read, the more convinced you become that all of these apparently different women sound like Ludmilla to you. But maybe you're just totally love-crazy.
  • It turns out that the group Marana founded, The Organization of Apocryphal Power, has split into two sects: one a group of "enlightened followers" called "The Archangel of Light" and the other a group of nihilist followers called the "Archon of Shadow."
  • The first group believes that they can track down from among the books of the world some that contain truth of a potentially extraterrestrial nature. The others believe that only counterfeit, intentional falsehood, and mystification can represent absolute value in a book.
  • The "Shadow" group thinks that Silas Flannery has produced the ultimate tome of knowledge as falsity, a nihilist bible of sorts. The other group thinks that Flannery, someone who produces highly marketable novels, has had an epiphany and has decided to write a positive truth.
  • After hearing all this, you want to read both Looks down in the gathering shadow and In a network of lines that enlace. But first you need to go find Ludmilla to assure yourself that she's not the woman being spoken about in Marana's letters.
  • You go to a café where the two of you have arranged to meet, and as you wait, you begin to read the manuscript Marana sent along to Cavedagna.
  • Who would have thought? It turns out to be pretty interesting.