Italo Calvino once said that he preferred to give false details about his biography since he felt that even the genuine data of a writer's life shed no light on the creative work. But this volume of posthumously collected personal writings is the closest we will ever come to the autobiography of this most private of writers. The pieces collected here range from the early 1950s to his last interview, completed just before his sudden death in 1985.
Apart from shedding light on his own formative experiences and evolution as an author, Calvino's autobiographical writings also examine the major events of twentieth-century history from a very personal viewpoint: his memories of Fascism in San Remo in the 1930s, his participation in the Resistance in the Ligurian hills in the '40s, his militant communism in the early 1950s, and his exit from the Italian Communist Party in 1957.
The two most substantial items are of geographical as well as historical interest. The first is an unpublished travelogue recounting his visit on a Ford Foundation Grant to the USA in 1960: apart from narrating his encounters with key figures of the time such as James Purdy and Martin Luther King, and his impressions of the beatniks and the Kennedy-Nixon election campaign, Calvino also takes us on a tour of the major cities as well as to riot-torn Alabama. This document is all the more precious since it is all that remains of a whole book he wrote about that journey entitled 'An Optimist In America', but which he destroyed at proof stage.
The other piece, which gives its title to the whole volume, is Calvino's evocative homage to his adopted city, Paris, where he lived from 1967 to 1980. The whole volume is, as ever, full of ideas on literature and other writers, all conveyed with the author's distinctive lightness and intelligence.