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Italian Novelist Italo Calvino Dies at 62 : Highly Praised Neo-Realist Known for His Fairy-Tale Characters

September 21, 1985|From Times Wire Services

SIENA, Italy — Neo-realist novelist Italo Calvino, who fashioned such fairy-tale characters as knights cut in two by a sword or young noblemen who ascend trees and spend the rest of their lives there, died Thursday at a hospital here.

Calvino, 62, was stricken with a brain hemorrhage and lapsed into unconsciousness Sept. 6. He was considered one of Italy's most prestigious modern writers.

In a New York Times Book Review article, the late John Gardner once called Calvino "possibly Italy's most brilliant living writer" and classed him with Kobo Abe, Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Other critics place him in the intellectual school of writers that includes Franz Kafka, Luigi Pirandello, Vladimir Nabokov and Alain Robbe-Grillet.

A Great Emptiness

Novelist Alberto Moravia said the death of his "dear friend" and fellow neo-realist leaves "a great emptiness" in Italian letters.

Calvino began his writing career after World War II, one of a new breed of writers.

"We had survived the war, and the youngest of us partisans . . . did not feel crushed, conquered or 'burned,' but victors, propelled by a driving task of the battle just concluded," he wrote of the neo-realists.

Out of his experience in the Resistance, fighting German occupation soldiers in northern Italy, came his first novel, "The Path to the Nest of Spiders."

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Calvino told his story of the Resistance not through an adult character but in the voice of a young boy forced by the war to grow up quickly. It became Calvino's last realistic novel.

The works for which he won his international reputation became literary experiments combining fantasy, folklore, philosophy and science.

Some Titles

They include "The Nonexistent Knight and the Cloven Viscount," "The Baron in the Trees"--published together in English as "Our Ancestors"--"Cosmicomics," "The Castle of Crossed Destinies" and "Marcovaldo, or the Seasons in the City." He also edited "Italian Folktales."

"The Baron in the Trees" is about a 12-year-old, 18th-Century nobleman who decides to live his life in the treetops, and "The Nonexistent Knight" is about a Crusader who is split in two and returns home with only his wicked half.

One of his most exotic works was "Invisible Cities," in which a young Marco Polo entertains the aged Kublai Khan with fantastic descriptions of places that exist everywhere and nowhere, in the past, present, and future.

Author Gore Vidal called the novel "perhaps his most beautiful."

Communist Period

Calvino had emerged from the war a communist. He moved into an unheated garret, went to work for the new publishing house of Giulio Einaudi and began writing.

He resigned from the Communist Party after the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and withdrew from active politics.

Italian President Francesco Cossiga said Calvino's death "deprives our country of a spiritual presence, creative and stimulating, of a voice among the most free and coherent of this century, of a poetic intellect who, as few have, knew how to express the truth of universal man."

In recent years, Calvino's reputation grew abroad, especially in the United States. The author lectured at Harvard and held writing seminars at Columbia University. He was to have lectured again at Harvard this fall.

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