I so wanted to love this book, but it took me over two months just to finish it despite its short length. That is not to say it was all bad! Calvino's structure is that of Marco Polo recounting for Kublai Khan brief vignettes about various cities and towns through which he has supposedly passed on his travels. I couldn't help but marvel at the sheer imaginative power it must have taken to create so many places, and I give props to Calvino for that. In addition, his prose is wonderful, with paragraphs frequently taking unexpected twists at the end. Many sentient points about human nature-points which transcend time and culture-were subtly inserted, and lent the book an added soulful element.
Two things gave me grief. First, despite the marvelous variety of locales, an entire book of city descriptions grew redundant very quickly. The author's creativity and prose carried me happily through about the first six or eight cities, and then the subject matter began to flag.
The second aspect was the magical realism employed in the book. Mention of objects such as sky scrapers, carousel horses, and underground trains, which did not exist in the era in which the book was written, offended the historian in me. Rather than fantastical, they just felt like poor fact checking to me. By the end of the book, entire modern cities, in countries yet to be discovered, began appearing in Kublai Khan's atlas; it all rang very inconceivable to me. I have decided that books in which characters travel back in time and bring modern knowledge and objects with them delight me, but books in which knowledge of technology and modern devices appear long before their advent simply feel jarring.
Had I read one of these pieces, individually, in a magazine or blog, I would likely have been full of compliments. For the most part, the book simply did not work for me because it was too much of the same.