Book: The Path to the Spiders’ Nests

Like all his books, it steers a perfect course between innocent playfulness and the complex depths of thought. The story is told through the eyes of Pin, a barely adolescent boy, for whom the decision to fight with the partisans or with the black-shirt is not far removed from a choice between one street gang or another. He is a brilliant creation; a streetwise urchin who understands very well what is going on when his elder sister lets German soldiers into her bedroom, but also a boy who, almost against his will, is hanging on to his innocence and naivety. The narrative turns around a gun which Pin has stolen from one of his sister’s German clients, and buried in the place where spiders build their nests

Mail on Sunday

That more or less sums up this amazing novel by Italo Calvino. I was a little apprehensive, because I didn’t really enjoy his other autobiographical work, but this was simply amazing. Pin epitomizes so many of the children I see on a daily basis. That desire to be part of the grown up crowd, yet at the opposite end, wanting peers and friends to play with. It’s wonderful characterization. It’s captures the essence of a child growing up. The perceptiveness juxtaposed against that blissful ignorance.

This novel to me wasn’t so much about war, but of how a child sees the world around them. Their perspective, their desires, their fears. It shows how grown up they are while at the same time exactly how crazy we adults are. And to draw it all together, Calvino writes beautifully.

…and the mist come up, a thick mist that blurs outlines and muffles sound.

There are so many instance of words strung together that just hit you with the sudden realization that the way it was put together is magical.

The path to the Spiders' Nests

In the preface to the book, Italo Calvino writes

On the contrary, it was as clear as day to us that the stories that were told were simply raw material: the explosive charge of freedom which inspired young writers in those days resided not so much in their urge to provide documentary information, as in the urge to express. Express what? Ourselves, life’s rough taste which we had just experienced, the many things we thought we knew or were, and perhaps really did know and really were at that time.

The path to the spiders’ nest was Calvino’s first novel at the age 24. He may not have liked it and let’s be honest how many people actually like what they have written looking back a few decades later. But for me, this book is a must-read. It’s a classic story of growing up and a nostalgic reminder of that period of time. Sure, it’s a completely different situation and time period, but that’s the beauty of coming-of-age stories. They transcend all barriers and make a nest in your heart.


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