[The following is an excerpt from the College of Letters & Sciences “Hot Reads 2023” by Isabella Ruder.]
“I have read Invisible Cities multiple times, and I have returned to it again this summer. Written by the Italian author Italo Calvino and structured as a dialogue between the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan and his visitor, the Italian adventurer Marco Polo, the book consists of prose poems describing 55 fictional cities.
I am visiting my hometown in India after almost 15 years, and the experience has sent me back to Calvino’s meditation on our relationship to the many places and spaces we inhabit throughout our lives. As a historian, I am deeply engaged with the past and with the ways in which our memory can change our perceptions of our past selves and the places where we might once have been happy.
Therefore, as an immigrant to the United States who has briefly returned home, Invisible Cities has become even more poignant to me. There are multiple such cities, in our memories, in our dreams and desires—those cities we have lost, those we inhabit, and those that we have yet to find. As Marco Polo tells Kublai Khan, “Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.” At any moment that I am walking through the streets of my childhood hometown, I am simultaneously also at the Union Terrace, watching the blue waves on Lake Mendota as I tell my sister about my life in Madison.
This is a very slim book, easy to read and beautifully philosophical. I recommend this extraordinary novel and its brilliant meditations on the human experience, on our culture, on memory and time to the UW–Madison family with great pleasure.”
– Mou Banerjee Resident Fellow (2022-2023)