Study Guide

If on a winter's night a traveler Chapter 5

By Italo Calvino

Chapter 5


  • In the middle of an important sentence, you turn the page and find that it's… blank! You turn the page again and find the next two are printed properly.
  • It seems that the bundles of paper in this new book have only been printed on one side, leaving every two pages white for every other two printed properly. You try to read every third and fourth page, but you can't get your bearings.
  • The setting keeps changing and unknown characters keep showing up. You begin to wonder whether this actually is the book Outside the town of Malbork or something else entirely.
  • You try to find out where the story is based, and after looking in an Atlas, you find that it is part of Cimmeria, a European state that has passed hands between different countries over many different wars. It used to be independent, but its culture and language have since disappeared from the Earth.
  • You call the woman you met at the bookstore to see if her copy is like yours.
  • Instead of reaching her, though, you get her argumentative sister, Lotaria, who invites you to a seminar at the university. She mentions several academic things that don't fully make sense to you, having to do with moral and social codes and reading analysis.
  • It turns out that the woman you met earlier is named Ludmilla, and she doesn't even live at the address you've phoned. You find out that she always gives her sister's number to keep strangers at bay, and feel pretty bummed out about it.
  • Just when you start to start to feel sorry for yourself, Ludmilla comes on the line. You tell her about the problem with your new book, and find out that she just so happens to know a scholar of Cimmerian literature at the university: a man named Professor Uzzi-Tuzii.
  • You agree to meet her at the university, but once you get there, you can't find your way. Stumbling around like a chump, you eventually bump into a young man named Irnerio, who knows who you are and that you're looking for Ludmilla.
  • Irnerio seems a bit strange to you. He has curiously taught himself how not to read, because he's sick of all the writing (like advertisements) that bombard him in his daily life. You figure it's best to leave him alone to do his thing, and he directs you to the department of Bothno-Ugaric languages.
  • When you arrive at the department, the place looks rundown and deserted. A suspicious professor opens the door and asks what you're doing there. You say you've come to learn about the Cimmerians. He tells you that the Cimmerians are utterly gone from history with almost no trace, then whines for a while about how no one studies them anymore.
  • The professor leaps to life, however, when you describe the novel you've been reading. He tells you that it's called Leaning from the steep slope and it's by a Cimmerian poet named Ukko Ahti.
  • This story hasn't been translated, so he picks it up in the original and starts translating it as he reads along.
  • He starts telling a story whose characters have the same names as the book you began to read, but that's where the similarities end. It is clearly not the same story. Nonetheless, you listen as the man reads on…
  • Anyone detecting a pattern yet?