Italo Calvino History Writer and Most Famous Works



One of the most famous, studied and appreciated Italian writers of all time was born on October 15, 1923: Italo Calvino. Thanks also to the historical period in which he lived, his life was shared between political commitment and the love of writing, his highest form of expression.

Italo Calvino died in Siena on September 19, 1985 and today, almost a hundred years after his birth, we remember him as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Works such as The Nonexistent Knight, The Viscount Cut in Two, The Invisible Cities, still render an immortal charm today. And Castle of Crossed Destinies or Palomar have had, for many, the task of teaching how much reading is capable of opening doors to unexplored worlds.

Born in Cuba on October 15, 1923, precisely in Santiago (name by which the writer was called during the Resistance), he lived his childhood and most of his life in Sanremo. From a botanist mother and an agronomist father, a promising son was expected at the Faculty of Agriculture. But Italo Calvino has always cultivated a single, great and immense love: that of literature.


His adolescence, in the midst of fascism, goes through the cinema and the reading of books and magazines from the regime. But there is an event which, in a particular way, will influence the consecration of Italo Calvino as a writer. In 1944, at the age of twenty-one, Calvino decided to join one of the partisan divisions, which worked against the Nazi-fascists. As the writer himself later pointed out, at the time he had no precise ideological conviction. However, he decides to join this part of the Resistance, as he recognizes it as an active and organized force. As Ugo Dotti writes when speaking of this phase of Italo Calvino’s life: “For the rest, it was like starting from a clean slate, from a kind of anarchism with a free and suspicious eye”.

Before joining the Resistance, flanked by friends like Eugenio Scalfari, Italo Calvino had studied the literary novelties of the years: Pisacane, Hunzinga, Eugenio Montale. And it is from these writings that the “vocation” for writing and the art of storytelling was born. There, in Liguria, where Calvino himself wrote in the preface to his The Path of the Nests: “I controversially erased the entire tourist coast”, to travel through the most pristine areas and a true source of inspiration . And it was precisely the phase of the Resistance that contributed to creating the fusion between the landscapes, made of woods, pines and chestnut trees, and the people. “The daily scenario of my whole life had become quite extraordinary and romantic – he continues – It was the pursuit and concealment of armed men. Even the villas that I was able to represent, now that I had seen them requisitioned and transformed into guardhouses and prisons. Even the fields of carnations since they had become open land, dangerous to cross”.

Italo Calvino and the varied world of his works

Italo Calvino’s first novel was born from the Resistance: The Path of the Spiders’ Nests, then published in 1947. After the war, in fact, he enrolled at the Faculty of Letters in Turin. From that moment, entering the Einaudi publishing house, he will publish novels on political and social issues, but full of a narrative expression that has made them masterpieces. His literary production is vast and we can trace varied and always harmonious literary currents that go from realism to fairy tales, to then become the spokesperson for very topical themes of the time. The Path of the Spiders’ Nests, for example, deals with the theme of Resistance, but it is told through the naive eyes of a child who grew up in the alleys of a small town.

Thus in the Trilogy of the ancestors, which includes The rampant baron, The viscount cut in two and The non-existent knight, we find, narrated in a fairy tone, an important food for thought. “The art of writing stories consists in knowing how to extract all the rest from this nothingness that we have understood from life. But once the page is finished, life resumes and you realize that what you knew is really nothing”. How else, if not with the words of Italo Calvino himself used in The Nonexistent Knight, could we describe his way of doing literature.

Divided in two or incomplete?

Works that are always topical and therefore appreciated at all times. Like The Cloud of Smog and Marcovaldo which address the issue of increasing industrialization. Open-minded and flexible, Italo Calvino also confronts experimental literature in which he creates a mixture of adventures and descriptions. Examples are If a traveler on a winter’s night, The castle of crossed destinies and Palomar where he faces the difficulty that sometimes characterizes human dialogue and reduces it to a “deaf” conversation where no one wants to listen and to understand.

A writer, Italo Calvino, capable of restoring the fullness of being in a novel. War, social and political commitment, science fiction and then man with his contradictions and his ways of being and living. Of this life “divided by two”, as The Halved Vicomte tells it. Where the missing half is none other than the awareness that light and shadow exist in each of us and that without them we would be incomplete. “I was whole and all things were natural and confused for me‚ stupid as the air. I thought I had seen it all and that was just the bark. If you ever become half of yourself‚ and I wish you so‚ my boy‚ you will understand things beyond the common intelligence of whole brains. You will have lost half of yourself and of the world ‚but the remaining half will be a thousand times deeper and more precious“.

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