cover image The Road to San Giovanni

The Road to San Giovanni

Italo Calvino. Pantheon Books, $19 (150pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41523-7

In five elegant ``memory exercises'' written between 1962 and 1977, Italian fiction writer Calvino (1923-85) presents an affecting self-portrait and offers indirect insights into how he conjured up his imaginary worlds. He writes of his difficult relationship with his father, a farmer and horticulturist whose passion for studying and acclimatizing exotic plants filled the future writer with an investigative spirit. Calvino ( The Baron in the Trees ) also recalls his adolescent movie mania, when watching the silver screen ``satisfied a need . . . for the projection of my attention into a different space.'' His graphic account of fighting fascists during WW II becomes a meditation on the role played by imagination in human memory. One essay is an informal structuralist analysis of living in a house in a Parisian suburb. This sparkling translation concludes with Calvino's lyric, metaphorical, highly elliptical description of his creative process. (Sept.)