Book review: Stories of Love and Loneliness and Wartime Stories, Italo Calvino

In review

I imagine the stories under Stories of Love and Loneliness as diptychs or mandalas, with a beautiful, striking feature of a poet or a nearsighted man, only to be spoiled by the character’s intrinsic weakness, which is painful, as Calvino unspools it viciously, as if he wanted to torture the characters, or ruin your day. I also read two stories, both heartbreaking, under Wartime Stories: One of the Three Is Still Alive, and Theft in a Pastry Shop. The last line of the former is brilliant, where the naked man, who everyone thought was dead, found his way through a subterranean drain and end up somewhere overlooking the woods, possibly to live as a hermit as anyone were considered “enemies who would pursue him with pitchforks and guns”: “Life, thought the naked man, was a hell, with rare moments recalling some ancient paradise.” The latter is wartime hunger manifested in a pastry shop, where “five to ten minutes from now it would be all over; for the rest of is life pastry shops would be out of bounds to him again, forever, like when he was a child squashing his nose against the windowpane.” I like the scene that both the robbers and the cops helped themselves on the desserts, their hunger unknowingly bonding them. The descriptions of the food where both vivid and lurid: in the dark, a tart is an excrescence, a “soft slimy sea-thing”, his hand covered with something damp and sticky “as if covered with leprosy”. The scene was a battle against cakes, cakes as “threatening enemies, strange monsters besieging him, a crisp and sticky siege which he must break through by the force of his jaw.”

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