The narrative of Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is divided among alternating chapters that follow the story of the Reader, expressed as the second-person “you.” Interspersed chapters each present a separate embedded narrative, the start of another book that the Reader encounters on his search for the remainder of the book he first began. At the end of chapter 1, which reflects on the types and practice of reading, the Reader settles into reading Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, only to find that the book does not progress beyond the first chapter because of a printer’s error.
Chapter 2 picks up where the reading is interrupted for the first time, after the first chapter. So begins the Reader’s search for the rest of the book, which persists for the remainder of the novel and brings him into contact with various characters and partial texts. The first notable character he encounters, in the bookstore to which he has gone to exchange his faulty book, is Ludmilla Vipiteno, another reader. Here he also encounters his first false lead, as he is told that the book he is reading is not Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler but Tazio Bazakbal’s Outside the town of Malbork.
Just as the Reader settles into Outside the town of Malbork, his reading is again interrupted, this time by a large section of uncut blank pages. In chapter 3, the frustrated Reader tries to contact Ludmilla to see whether her replacement copy has the same problem. Instead, the Reader speaks only with Ludmilla’s sister, Lotaria, a critical reader, and her friend Irnerio, a nonreader. Lotaria leads the Reader to Professor Uzzi-Tuzii, who explains that Bazakbal’s Outside the town of Malbork is really Ukko Ahti’s Leaning from the steep slope. Uzzi-Tuzii begins to read his copy aloud, translating as he goes along.
The reading experience is again interrupted, though, and chapter 4 begins with Ludmilla’s entrance just as the text of Leaning from the steep slope breaks off. Lotaria enters shortly thereafter with her readers’ group and claims that the novel is not, in fact, Leaning from the steep slope but is, instead, Without fear of wind or vertigo by Vorts Viljandi (possibly Ukko Ahti’s pseudonym). The group then begins a reading of Without fear of wind or vertigo.
The group reading ends when, at the start of chapter 5, Lotaria throws wide open a critical discussion of the text; the readers’ outcries parody academic and critical responses to literature. The Reader, fed up, travels to the publishing house to try to sort out the confusion and...
(The entire section is 1107 words.)