Study Guide

If on a winter's night a traveler Chapter 8

By Italo Calvino

Chapter 8

Without fear of wind or vertigo

  • The story opens with people milling around a town and heavy military vehicles driving about. A band is playing music and some drunken people are leaving bars. All in all, the setting has the feel of an eastern European dictatorship.
  • The narrator is walking down one of these streets with a man named Valerian and a woman named Irina. He mentions that Irina seems to hold a special power over both him and Valerian.
  • There are strikes occurring in the city, and counterrevolutionary armies have begun surrounding it.
  • Suddenly, the narrator jumps back in time and speaks about how he met Irina while trying to cross the "Iron Bridge" amidst a confused and dangerous mob. Irina almost fell in the crowd because she was suffering from vertigo, but the narrator saved her.
  • Switching to present tense, the narrator introduces himself to her as Alex Zinnober, and the two have a conversation about how much the revolution has changed them and the people around them.
  • He wishes to continue walking with her, but the two of them are separated by a crush of military vehicles. Those pesky dictatorships—always getting in the way of love.
  • In an aside, Alex mentions that he doesn't belong to any particular part of the army, but is sort of a wandering soldier throughout the city.
  • One day, he goes to visit his friend Valerian, who is cleaning his revolver at a military desk. After they have spoken for a moment, Irina appears from behind a screen. Plot twist!
  • Irina grabs the revolver from Valerian's desk, assembles it, and points it into her eye, making a philosophical comment about wanting to die and joining the void of nothingness.
  • Alex tells her not to mess around, so she aims the gun at him. In this moment of power, she claims that it would be good if women possessed all the weapons in society and men had to be women for a while. She orders Alex to go stand beside Valerian.
  • At this moment, though, someone walks in with a bundle of files and conceals Irina behind the open door. The situation is immediately diffused, possibly because they're all nuts.
  • The three of them eventually go to Irina's for sexual activities. Fairly steamy language ensues.
  • During this scene, Alex informs you that he's actually been entrusted to identify a spy who has penetrated the ranks of the Revolutionary Committee and is about to hand the city over to the enemy.
  • In the throes of passion, Irina grabs Valerian by the hair and forces him to perform oral sex on her. While this is happening, Alex crawls around the room and searches Valerian's pants, where he discovers his own death warrant, signed and stamped for the crime of treason.
  • Oooh, interesting! But—