This year marks the 100th anniversary of Italo Calvino’s birth. We take up Calvino’s well-known distinction between “defiance of the labyrinth” and “surrender to the labyrinth” to explore some paths through the complex, layered and multifaceted work of the Ligurian writer.
Restless, intellectually lively and multifaceted in creativity, in private life shy and a man of few words, Calvino is a unique figure in the Italian literary landscape.
The first important trait is his family and childhood environment. The son of two scientists – his father an agronomist with international experience, his mother the first woman to hold the position of professor of general botany in Italy – Italo was born in Santiago de Las Vegas, near Havana, Cuba, on October 15, 1923. Both parents were freethinkers, agnostic, if not openly anticlerical; his father was a disciple of Mazzini, an anarchist and later a socialist; his mother an atheist and socialist. Italo grew up in a context steeped in international issues. Sanremo, before World War II, was a holiday venue frequented by British aristocrats.