Hermit in Paris

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In a series of essays and interviews, Italo Calvino in Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings builds up a picture of the evolution of his political views and the progress of his career as a writer of fiction.

Born in Cuba in 1923 to Italian parents who named him Italo as a reminder of his Italian heritage, Calvino grew up in the town of San Remo in the Ligurian district of northern Italy. Raised in a non-religious family in a Catholic country, he felt somewhat isolated in his childhood, a feeling that faded for a while during World War II, when he joined the Communist partisans fighting against the Nazis.

He remained a member of the Communist Party until 1957, but left after the crimes of Stalin were revealed and after the Soviet Union crushed the 1956 anti-Communist uprising in Hungary. He became increasingly apolitical, returning in a way to the isolated situation of his childhood and praising detachment. In the meantime, he pursued a literary career, though in a tentative manner: in his later essays he says that he resisted his vocation as a writer, not completely believing anyone would want to read what he had to say.

In addition to the autobiographical essays, this collection contains Calvino’s previously unpublished American Diary: a record of his trip to the United States in 1959-1960. It is actually not so much a diary as a series of letters home describing life in New York City and other parts of the country, and reflecting his love-hate relationship with America.

There is little about Calvino’s personal life in the collection, but what does emerge is a clear picture of his intellectual interests and the progress of his career, along with some interesting comments on Communist ways of thought and on the process of writing.

Review Sources

Booklist 99, no. 14 (March 15, 2003): 1268.

Contemporary Review 282, no. 1647 (April, 2003): 256.

Library Journal 128, no. 6 (April 1, 2003): 96.

London Review of Books 25, no. 8 (April 17, 2003): 8-9.

Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2003, p. R13.

The New York Times Book Review, April 6, 2003, p. 16.

Review of Contemporary Fiction 23, no. 2 (Summer, 2003): 155.

The Washington Post, April 13, 2003, p. T5.