The Road to San Giovanni Essay - Critical Essays

Italo Calvino

The Road to San Giovanni

THE ROAD TO SAN GIOVANNI, like many posthumously published works, is a mere shadow of what its author intended. Italo Calvino, who died in 1985, had envisioned a series of “passagi obbligati,” his own wordplay on “essential passages,” which carries the implication “rites of passage.” The published collection contains only four such essays on formative experiences in Calvino’s life. The fifth is an evocative sketch on the author’s relationship to the world itself.

The title essay presents Calvino as a boy in his native San Remo, Italy. Even in adolescence he had determined to travel a road different from that of his agronomist father. Calvino symbolically describes this by stating his preference for the path which led from his suburban home to town. In contrast, Calvino’s father followed the road to the family’s San Giovanni estate.

A second essay recalls Calvino in his teens, surreptitiously attending movies. He often arrives late and leaves early. The narrative gaps and transpositions which result inspire the distinctive style of his own works.

Soldier Calvino, fighting with the Italian partisans, has a comparable experience when he attempts to reconstruct a battle he had thought was a victory but which had in actuality been a defeat. To do so he uses signs to precisely invert the narrative. This third essay has a tragicomic tone, like the films of Calvino’s admired contemporary, Federico Fellini.

Humor and existential pathos characterize the fourth essay, on trash collection. Calvino becomes high priest officiating at an offering to the underworld deity. He also asserts his own continued existence, at least until he, too, becomes part of the collection.

The final essay also describes “eternal return,” specifically through the writer’s relation to creative landscape. Terraced houses and their gardens range above and below; beyond the sea, and above the sky. Such worlds endlessly reproduce themselves in variation, and a writer, simultaneously in the shadows yet at center stage, functions in each as interpreter.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XC, September 1, 1993, p.27.

Boston Globe. October 7, 1993, p.75.

Chicago Tribune. September 1, 1993, V, p.3.

The Guardian. November 9, 1993, p.13.

Library Journal. CXVIII, August, 1993, p.102.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 2, 1994, p.6.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, October 10, 1993, p.11.

San Francisco Chronicle. October 19, 1993, p. E7.

The Spectator. CCLXXI, November 20, 1993, p.46.