Literature / If on a winter's night a traveler

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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.
  • Bookends: 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.
  • Mind Screw
  • 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.
  • Strawman Political: Ludmilla's sister Lotaria is a parody of self-righteous politically-minded students and readers who just boil down works of art and literature into their political subtexts and focus exclusively on them to the exclusion of anything else. At one point she claims that if she feeds the words of a book into a computer, she can know exactly what the book's about without ever reading it just by counting how frequently certain words appear. The novel suggests that for all her political awareness and disdain for Ludmilla's more apolitical approach to reading for escapism and entertainment, Lotaria (and, by extension, people like her) is actually much more narrow-minded and limited than Ludmilla. Ludmilla is open to having her mind changed and her views challenged by what she reads, whereas Lotaria rigidly and unquestioningly adheres to her chosen dogma and doesn't acknowledge anything that doesn't conform to her own political views and prejudices.
  • [Trope Name]
  • The Unseen: You never actually meet the infamous Ermes Marana.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: At one point towards the end, the author lambasts you for just drifting passively through events and bouncing from place to place instead of taking a more active role in what's going on. You're also told off for getting aroused by the female revolutionary who may or may not be Lotaria who may or may not be holding you hostage by pointing out that you're already attracted to Ludmilla, you're not entitled to have it off with every female character in the book just because you're the protagonist, and you don't even like Lotaria.

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.
  • Cliffhanger: 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.
  • Not So Different: While divergent in terms of genre, each of the stories involves a man narrating the chaotic events he becomes involved in as a result of meeting a woman to whom he displays varyingly overt levels of attraction. Which, in turn, is not a million miles off from what happens to you after meeting Ludmilla...
  • 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.


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