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Literature: If on a winter's night a traveler
You are looking at the cover to If on a winter's night a traveler.
You are about to begin reading the TV Tropes entry on Italo Calvino's classic 1979 novel If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Close all other browser windows. Find a comfortable position to read — don't lean in too close, you'll strain your eyes, but don't lean too far back, or you might miss vital words on the screen. Adjust the light. Stretch your legs. Do you have any drinks or snacks nearby in case you get hungry? Anything else? Do you have to go to the bathroom?

Italo Calvino's novel If on a winter's night a traveler is about you. You are trying to read Italo Calvino's book If on a winter's night a traveler when something quite annoying happens: there was an error and only the first exciting chapter is there. So you go back to the bookstore and try to exchange your copy of If on a winter's night a traveler for another one, but the person at the bookstore tells you that the chapter you just read — which you wish to continue reading, after all — was not actually a part of If on a winter's night a traveler at all, but rather a different book entirely.

And so you go off in search of that book and, naturally, you find hilarity, an international book-fraud conspiracy, and true love.


These are the tropes you find in Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler:

  • Arc Words: An interesting example, where each of the titles of the books you read add up to an entirely new first sentence of a book. It goes If, on a winter's night, a traveler, outside the town of Malbork, leaning from the steep slope, without fear of wind or vertigo, looks down in the gathering shadow (in a network of lines that interlace/in a network of lines that intersect) on the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon around an empty grave, what story down there awaits its end? (he asks, anxious to hear the story)
  • Audience Surrogate: The Reader for male readers, Ludmilla/the Other Reader for female readers.
  • Berserk Button: For you, starting "If on a winter's night a traveler" and finding out that the copy you have is defunct.
  • Book Ends: A variant - the book begins with you reading If on a winter's night a traveler, and ends with you finishing the book.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Ludmilla has this on you, Silas Flannery, and Ermes Marana. It's also a running theme in the various novels.
  • Fictional Document
  • Genre Savvy
  • Genre Shift: Each even numbered passage is a new first chapter of a different book you are reading and is a slightly different genre, from detective fiction to romance.
    • Or is it a different variation/translation of the same chapter?
  • Happily Married: By the end of the book, you are.
  • Meta Fiction: It's about you trying to read If on a winter's night a traveler.
  • Milkman Conspiracy: There's an international plot to mislabel and bind books so you'll never read the right one, involving an evil translator, faceless publishers, and the government of a Latin American dictatorship. Or so it appears.
  • Multiple Narrative Modes: The Frame Story is narrated in the second person. All the internal stories are narrated in either the first or third person. Sometimes this is used to refer to both narrators simultaneously.
  • Painting the Medium
  • Philosophical Novel
  • Post Modernism
  • Present Tense Narrative
  • Running Gag: You never get to read past the first chapter of any book (except for If on a winter's night a traveler, which you eventually finish).
  • Second-Person Narration
  • Serious Business: Books are.
  • Show Within a Show: Books within a book actually.
  • [Trope Name]
  • Wall Banger: In-universe example:
You fling the book on the floor, you would hurl it out the window, even the closed window, through the slats of the Venetian blinds; let them shred its incongruous quires, let sentences, words, morphemes, phonemes gush forth, beyond recomposition into discourse; through the panes, and if they are of unbreakable glass then so much the better, hurl the book and reduce it to photons, undulatory vibrations, polarized spectra; through the wall, let the book crumble into molecules and atoms passing between atom and atom of the reinforced concrete, breaking up into electrons, neutrons, neutrinos, elementary particles more and more minute; through the telephone wires, let it be reduced to electronic impulses, into flow of information, shaken by redundancies and noises and let it be degraded into swirling entropy. You would like to throw it out of the house, out of the block, beyond the neighborhood, beyond the city limits, beyond the state confines, beyond the regional administration, beyond the national community, beyond the Common Market, beyond Western culture, beyond the continental shelf, beyond the atmosphere, the biosphere, the stratosphere, the field of gravity, the solar system, the galaxy, the cumulus of galaxies, to succeed in hurling it beyond the point the galaxies have reached in their expansion, where space-time has not yet arrived, where it would be received by nonbeing, or, rather, the not-being which never has and will never be, to be lost in the most absolutely guaranteed undeniable negativity. Merely what it deserves, neither more nor less.

These are the tropes you find within the books within If on a winter's night a traveler

  • Always Female: the Love Interests.
  • Always Male: the narrators.
  • Asian and Nerdy: Narrator of "On a Carpet of Leaves Illuminated By The Moon."
  • Cherry Blossoms: Replaced by gingko leaves in "On a Carpet of Leaves," but a similar aesthetic and philosophical association remains.
  • Cliff Hanger: Ubiquitous.
  • Far East: Japan, in "On a Carpet of Leaves." Our narrator and his stern mentor spend much time contemplating the falling gingko leaves, and the narrator appears to be learning a Zen-like mode of consciousness, isolating particular sensations to understand them completely.
  • Femme Fatale: Irina in "Without Fear of Wind or Vertigo."
  • The Fool: The narrator of "Leaning From the Steep Slope."
  • Gene Hunting: After his father's death, Nacho from "Around an Empty Grave" goes looking for his mother. He has a very hard time getting a straight answer.
  • Genre Savvy: The narrator of "Around an Empty Grave." See below.
  • Her Name Is: The protagonist of "Around an Empty Grave" sees this coming with his father's death, but is unable to keep the trope from being played absolutely straight.
  • Iconic Item: Irina's hat with the rose on it.
  • Latino Is Brown: The novel includes a story about a population in Latin America where the indigenous people and the European people all look the same. This is implied to be a product of interbreeding.
  • Love Interests: Always Female, and run the gamut from sweet and naive, to sadistic and controlling, and everything in between.
  • The Mole: in "Without Fear of Wind or Vertigo."
  • Multiple Choice Past: the narrator of "Looks Down in the Gathering Shadow." He's constantly trying to escape one life after another.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: in "What Story Down There Awaits Its End?"
  • No Name Given: For almost all of them.
  • Properly Paranoid: The professor who narrates "In a Network of Lines that Enlace." Notably, even he thinks he's being way too paranoid, until the very end. And this same trait absolutely backfires on the narrator of "In a Network of Lines that Intersect."
  • Superpower Meltdown: In "What Story Down There Awaits Its End?" the main character doesn't even realize he's having a meltdown. He erases almost the whole world from existence before he realizes he can't bring it back.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: It's entirely possible that the narrator of "Leaning From the Steep Slope" is not mentally stable.


You have now finished reading the TV Tropes entry on Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler. Thank you.
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alternative title(s): If On A Winters Night A Traveler; Ptitlelnb6dtnv
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