‘If on a winter’s night a traveller‘ by Italo Calvino is eccentric to the core. Did I go by the book cover? No, it was the word of mouth that led me to this beautiful piece of literature.
An incomplete statement ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller’ makes for a rather unusual and intriguing book title. The cover of my book has this title written in big capital block letters on horizontal lines on the cover. These letters are not straight, rather tilted on one side or leaning a bit, more like the books on a bookshelf.
The reason being ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller’ is your story of entering into a book shop to purchase this title but instead you are caught in a loop of never finding this book. Your first effort at buying this book turns out to be futile, as a printing mistake leads to repetition of the pages from seventeenth page to thirty-two over and over again. You reach the book shop to exchange this defective book but there is confusion and you are in a loop to find ‘If on a winter’s night a traveler’.
In this book, you are a reader and also the protagonist. At times, you are also the other reader and character named Ludmilla. Through the entire length of the book, you are reading ten different stories until mid-way and also following the main objective of finding the original book.
It is quite a daunting task to think of a book cover for ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller’. Maybe the ten titles of the books that begin within ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller’ can be the inspiration for cover design. In one of the editions published in 1982, there is the image of a train running, perhaps a reference to the first story titled ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller’ set at a bar inside the railway station.
On the first edition of the Italian cover, the imagery of the railway station inside the corked wine bottle seems to subtly convey the metafiction in store for the readers.
The Telegraph included the novel in a list of “100 novels everyone should read” in 2009, describing it as a “playful postmodernist puzzle.” Calvino wrote ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller’ in Italian published in 1979. It was in 1981, that the book was translated in English by William Weaver.
Italo Calvino was born in Cuba and grew up in Italy. During the war he was a member of the Italian Resistance and joined the Communist Party, although he later left in 1957. The reason why he is able to depict the concepts of ghost writers, distribution of fake novels, banned books under authoritarian regimes and plagiarism so realistically in this book. Calvino mentions Mikhail Bulgakov, Yasunari Kawabata, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Juan Rulfo, José María Arguedas, Jorge Luis Borges and G.K. Chesterton as having influenced, in various ways, the narrative style of the ten stories that comprise the book.
What would I want on the cover?
- Me and Ludmilla together at the bookshop (when the two meet for the first time)
- Irnerio throwing the copy of ‘In a network of lines that enlace’ into the small room filled with books in Ludmilla’s house
Or, READER would you rather like the cover to remain abstract and intriguing?