It is hard to write something about Invisible Cities without feeling inadequate to the beautiful language in which it is written. I can’t speak of the original Italian version, but the English version is some of the most poetic prose I have read in a long time if not ever.
This will not only contain a review but also my personal interpretation of what this book holds. I felt like I was offered a rare gift at the end of the book. One that made me want to turn back to the first page to read it all again. What I’d just realized changed my whole perception of the book. So I have to put in a little spoiler alert, if you should wish to read this book on your own term without any premeditated ideas of what it might mean.
As with all interpretation I could be wrong. It could be an idea that only I see; however it does shed a different light to every single phrase.
Talking about the ending is in it self false, cause the book is build up by various of small chapters in which we are taken through different cities without any greater narrative. The traveler Marco Polo describes each city to Kublai Khan. Marco Polo who has traveled near and far describes each city with explicit detail. They are all assembled in Marco Polo’s mind, or are they? Is it possible to reach them by travel or are they invisible cities?
Although the cities are different, they seem to resemble one other, and are in fact the same. Each disgusted with a different name.
“It is known that names of places changes as many times as there are foreign languages.”
Each city becomes like a maze. One you can never leave because you are never taken out of there and told what is beyond the borders.
Describing the city of Cecilia near to the end, Marco Polo speaks of his encounter with a goatherd. His opposite, a traveler of the desert who can not distinguish cities from one another. He has no recollection of each city, as Marco Polo has none of what lies between. Many years later they re encounter. Marco Polo discovers that he has not yet left Cecilia, although recollecting entering another city. They are trapped in this maze of the same city that is everywhere.
Spoiler: The cities are in their essence an allegory for the human mind and it’s capabilities.
The mind can go very far in it’s imagination, however just as Marco Polo can’t see beyond the city borders, we as humans are only capable of comprehending something to a certain point.
Our mind is our city wherein we are trapped. It is a maze, which we are constantly trying to unravel but can never fully, just like the streets of the cities create a maze from which can’t be escaped.
“If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.”
“From these data it is possible to deduce an image of the future Berenice, which will bring you closer to knowing the truth that any other information about the city as it is seen today.”
“It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear.”
I could keep on reciting amazing quotes from this book to explain why I am convinced about the cities as a symbol of the mind. I will not. In stead I suggest to read the amazing piece of writing.