Book: The Baron in the Trees

So I’ve given up on the Tastings things and I’m now converting them to normal reviews of the book whilst integrating the quotes that I love from them. It is after all one way to archive these special pieces of texts for later reference.

The Baron in the Trees


It’s no secret that I’m very taken with Italo Calvino, however this is my first time with one his longer novels. Yet it his style of writing just shines through. His way with words, his wit and sheer brilliance of his imagination. What do I mean when I say that? Just take a look at this short interaction between the Baron and his son who has chosen to live the trees.

Instead he suddenly got bored with all this solemnity, and shouted: “But from the trees I can piss farther,” a phrase without much meaning, but which cut the discussion short. … Then he turned, drew an arm out of his cloak, pointed to the sky, which had suddenly become overcast with black clouds, and exclaimed: “Be careful, son, there’s Someone who can piss on us all!” and spurred his horse on.

It’s not just funny, but intelligently so. Add to that some real philosophical opinions, ideas and discussions with some of the best and brightest during the time.

“I realize that when I have more ideas than others, I give those others my ideas, if they want to accept them; and that, to me, is leading.”

Of course, this novel would not be what it is without the romance that was present. Calvino present a variety of different relationships. Those of first love, those that combined both love and hate, those that dealt with jealousy and those that dealt with lost love as well. It was surprising and something I didn’t expect from Calvino. Then again, I guess the Italians do have passionate and exciting romances.

So begin their love, the boy happy and amazed, she happy and not surprised at all (nothing happens by chance to girls). It was the love so long-awaited by Cosimo which had inexplicably arrived, and so lovely that he could not imagine how he had even thought it lovely before. And the thing most new to him was that it was so simple, and the boy at that moment thought it must be like that always.

Still in everything there’s this certain cheekiness that creeps through. That mischief that is present in young boys really comes alive in the character of Cosimo. It’s the combination of defiance taken too far, and not going back on your word as a man. Yet here is a boy who grew up living in trees and how that changes him as a person, and yet allows him to be who he really is. There’s this ideal that he is working towards and as he lives and grows, he meets different people and different ideas of the world that shapes that dream of his.

The epilogue of the book should have been this: the Author, having founded the perfect state in the treetops and convinced the whole of humanity to establish itself there and live there happily, came down to inhabit the earth, which was now deserted. This is what it should have been, but the work remained incomplete.

Interspersed in this novel are words that somehow are strung together to form the most amazing phrases or invoke heartfelt emotions. It really is an enjoyable experience that I am not able to describe in words, although I daresay Calvino would be able to express it perfectly.

Day after day Cosimo spent on the ash, looking at the field as if he could read something in it that had been struggling inside him for a long time: the very idea of distance, of intangibility, of the waiting that can be prolonged beyond life.

Their world was a world of trees – intricate, gnarled and impervious.

It always surprises me that a novel such as this was written so many years ago. It speaks so truly of society that we currently live in, that it makes one wonder if life is not just one cycle and that history really just repeats itself.

In fact, times were coming that were to be more tolerant, but also more hypocritical.

But really, what I enjoyed about this book was how different it was. A coming of age story that lasted till death, yet felt like an adventure through the trees every single step of the way.

What he meant to say is not there, for he understood something else, something that was all-embracing, and he could not say it in words but only by living as he did. Only by being so frankly himself as he was till death could he give something to all men.

In the end, it is the ending that really struck me. It doesn’t give away the story but it’s beautifully written and really adds another layer of meaning to the story.

Ombrosa no longer exists. Looking at the empty sky, I ask myself if it ever did really exist. That mesh of leaves and twigs of fork and froth, minute and endless, with the sky glimpsed only in sudden specks and splinters, perhaps it was only there so that my brother could pass through it with his tomtit’s tread, was embroidered on nothing, like this thread of ink which I have let run on for page after page, swarming with cancellations, corrections, doodles, blots and gaps, bursting at times into clear bi berries, coagulating at others in piles of tiny starry seeds, then twisting away, forking off, surrounding buds of phrases with frameworks of leaves and clouds, then interweaving again, and so running on and on and on until it splutters and bursts into a last senseless cluster of words, ideas, dreams, and so ends.

Have you experience the magic of Calvino before? What’s your favourite piece of work by him?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: