Study Guide

If on a winter's night a traveler Chapter 19

By Italo Calvino

Chapter 19


  • You are taking tea with a high official named Arkadian Porphyrich of Ircania, Director General of Police State Archives. Apparently, you've been sent to meet him by the High Command of Ataguitania. What in the world have you gotten yourself into?
  • Apparently, Ircania and Ataguitania are actually exchanging banned books because their repressive state governments need something to repress.
  • You mention the whole Apocryphal Power conspiracy to Porphyrich. He knows about it, and says that he was once able to capture the leader of this movement (Ermes Marana). In describing Marana, Porphyrich suggests that all of this man's actions have been motivated by his desire to win back a woman, or perhaps to win a bet with her.
  • Porphyrich describes to you how Ludmilla has always wished to hear a voice that exists beyond the words that she finds in books.
  • Marana, though, always believed that there was only a void, an absence behind the meaning of words.
  • It turns out that the woman (Ludmilla) eventually won their bet, for she could always find something that wasn't completely false in the books she read. Marana eventually accepted his limitations and admitted that when he read, there was something happening that was not in his power to control. This same something, Porphyrich admits, that no police force can ever stop.
  • When Marana knew that he was finished, the police allowed him to escape their country.
  • You're happy to hear that Marana is shrinking out of Ludmilla's life. But your satisfaction won't be complete until the spell of your unfinished readings is broken.
  • You question Porphyrich about whether he has a copy of Around an empty grave. He gets up and says he doesn't seem to have a copy of it. He does say, however, that a celebrated Ircanian author named Anatoly Anatolin has written a book just like Bandera's, which is set in Ircania. It's called What story down there awaits its end?
  • Porphyrich plans to intercept this prized book and promises to give you a copy when he does. You, however, have had just about enough of trusting all the crazy people you keep meeting, so you hatch a plan to intercept the book even before Porphyrich and his goons can.
  • That night, you dream that you're in a train. People are reading books and you're convinced that several of the books are the ones you've started to read.
  • One person leaves a book to save his seat, and you rush over to snag it, certain that it's one of the ones that you're looking for. You glance up and realize that everyone is looking at you with disapproval.
  • You stand up and lean out the window, still holding the book. The train has stopped in the middle of a fog patch. Another train has stopped on the opposite track, heading in the opposite direction.
  • Through the window of this other train, you see Ludmilla and call to her. You try to hand her the book you have, saying it's the one she's been looking for. But she denies you, and says that the book she's looking for contains the end of the whole world.
  • You say this can't be true and look for some argument to contradict her. But the two trains move off before you can think of something.
  • Now you're awake, waiting on a park bench for the author of What story down there awaits its end? to show up. A man with a long blond beard sits next to you, and says these gardens are always under surveillance. He secretly passes you some bundled pages into your pocket.
  • He has to hand you pages from different pockets to avoid suspicion. He only manages to hand you some, however; the wind blows many of the others away, and the man is promptly taken away by police.
  • You are concerned for his wellbeing, but are more interested in in the pages he's handed you…