Experimental novelist Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities was published in 1972 as a series of “overhead conversations” between Kublai Kahn, Notorious Mongol Emperor and Marco Polo, noted explorer. Although categorized as a novel, that description really does not apply in any tradition sense. The conversations between the two historical figures are structured as a series of short and highly impressionistic sketches of the various cities that Polo has visited at the behest of Kublai Kahn. The Emperor, it seems, has grown weary of being entertained by his hometown storytellers and wishes to hear of the treasures that the explorer has brought back.
Invisible Cities is, as should be clear by now, an imaginative rebooting of the Arabian Tales in which Scheherazade manages to live another day by telling an exciting story to her psychotic captor. Except that that unlike that straightforward explanation for why one character is telling another character a story, Invisible Cities is as much about the art of storytelling and the mechanics of fiction as it is about the cities that Polo describes. Cities that may, in fact, be placed Polo never actually visited.
It may even be possible that the characters named Marco Polo and Kublai Kahn are not actually the historical figures upon which they seem to be based. Like every other novel Calvino wrote, Invisible Cities is far more than meets the eye and is yet another reason that he remains at the forefront of the postmodern paradigm long after even the most avant-garde aspects of that literary movement settled squarely into the mainstream