If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler Study Guide

Published in 1979, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler appeared near the end of Italo Calvino’s career. This literary work is considered one of his greatest, especially for the nontraditional style and structure that almost spits in the face of traditional novels. Indeed, Salman Rushdie described the work as “the most outrageous fiction about fiction ever conceived.”

Perhaps the most jarring aspect of the novel is the fact that much of it is written in second-person narration, meaning "you" are the protagonist of the story. In addition, there are ten short stories read by the main character that cause the book to constantly switch between settings, narrators, and styles. Themes and motifs run throughout the frame story and the stories-within-a-story to create an intricate and captivating novel full of lust, jealousy, and paranoia.

Much of the frame story is written in a realistic style, though an exact setting and time period aren't given. However, many of the locations referenced and even traveled to in the story, such as Cimmeria and Ataguitania, are completely fictional. This, combined with the novel's subplot about the falsification of books, causes the reader to be intrigued yet wary throughout the novel.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is a work by a writer steeped in the practice of metafiction and postmodernism. It has been conjectured that Calvino's style in If on a winter's night a traveler was largely influenced by the writing of Vladimir Nabokov. Furthermore, Calvino has stated that the styles of the ten stories within the novel were influenced by the authors Bulgakov, Kawabata, Tanizaki, Rulfo, Arguedas, Borges, and Chesterton.

Likewise, many works of literature and art have been inspired by Calvino's innovative work. Sting titled his 2009 album after the book, leaving off only the “a Traveler” part, while Bill Ryder-Jones cut off everything but the “If” from the title of an album he has defined as the score for an imaginary film adapted from Calvino’s iconoclastic novel.