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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

January 02, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

THE ROAD TO SAN GIOVANNI by Italo Calvino (Pantheon: $19.95; 150 pp.) These are five "memory exercises," written between 1962 and 1977, and gathered by Calvino's wife Esther after his death in 1985. The title piece is a memory of the walk with his father (alternating days with his brother) to San Giovanni, to help carry home baskets of fruit and greens. For this walk, the father wakes at 5 a.m., the sons an hour or two later. Calvino Sr.'s one passion, his son writes, was "to know to grow to hunt, in every way to get on top of things," while for his son, "The words that flowed and flowed inside my head weren't anchored to objects, but to emotions, fantasies, forebodings." The mother "is left in the margin," transforming "passions into duties." While his father seeks a relationship with nature, "one of struggle and dominion," Italo seeks "a relationship literature would give me, restoring meaning to everything." The other pieces are less straightforward than this description of the acorn falling from the tree, but "La Poubelle Agreee" (literally, the pleasing dustbin) is charming because Calvino makes such fun of himself, carrying out the garbage, thinking about carrying out the garbage, and writing about carrying out the garbage. If you have ever been told by some boor that you think too much, this will give a structure to your revenge. Calvino is and ever shall be a playful man, a serious little boy.

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