Critical Assessment

“Calvino, it seemed to me, had managed effortlessly what no author in English could quite claim: his novels and stories and fables were both classically modernist and giddily postmodern, embracing both experiment and tradition, at once conceptual and humane, intimate and mythic. Calvino, with his frequent references to comics and folktales and film, and his droll probing of contemporary scientific and philosophical theories, had encompassed motifs associated with brows both high and low in an internationally lucid style, one wholly his own.”

Jonathan Lethem, “Italo for Beginners,” The New York Times, November 20, 2005.

First Excerpt

“I have mentioned that we used to spend hours and hours on the trees, and not for ulterior motives as most boys, who go up only in search of fruit or birds’ nests, but for the pleasure of get­ting over difficult parts of the trunks and forks, reaching as high as we could, and finding a good perch on which to pause and look down at the world below, to call and joke at those passing by. So I found it quite natural that Cosimo’s first thought, at that unjust attack on him, was to climb up the holm oak, to us a familiar tree spreading its branches to the height of the dining­-room windows through which he could show his proud offended air to the whole family.

“‘Vorsicht! Vorsicht! Now he’ll fall down, poor little thing!’ anxiously exclaimed our mother, who would not have turned a hair at seeing us under cannon fire, but was nevertheless in agony over our games.

“Cosimo climbed up to the fork of a big branch, where he could settle comfortably, and sat himself down there, his legs dangling, his arms crossed with hands tucked under his elbows, his head buried in his shoulders, his tricorn hat tilted over his forehead.

“Our father leaned out the window. ‘When you’re tired of being up there, you’ll change your mind!’ he shouted.

“‘I’ll never change my mind,’ exclaimed my brother from the branch.

“‘You’ll see as soon as you come down!’

“‘I’ll never come down again!’ And he kept his word.”

the-baron-in-the-treesSecond Excerpt

“There is the moment when the silence of the countryside gathers in the ear and breaks into a myriad of sounds: a croaking and squeaking, a swift rustle in the grass, a plop in the water, a pattering on earth and pebbles, and high above all, the call of the cicada. The sounds follow one another, and the ear eventually discerns more and more of them – just as fingers unwinding a ball of wool feel each fiber interwoven with progressively thinner and less palpable threads. The frogs continue croaking in the background without changing the flow of sounds, just as light does not vary from the continues winking of stars. But at every rise or fall of the wind every sound changes and is renewed. All that remains in the inner recess of the ear is a vague murmur: the sea.”