Book Review: 'Into The War' by Italo Calvino, 'We Can Remember It For You Wholesale' by Philip Dick Italo Calvino's Into the War and Philip K. Dick's We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, two posthumously published books of short fiction, contrast greatly but deliver stimulating reading experiences.
NPR logo

Two Dead Writers Come Alive In New Collections

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/348672470/353312836" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Two Dead Writers Come Alive In New Collections

Review

Book Reviews

Two Dead Writers Come Alive In New Collections

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/348672470/353312836" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Here's what gets a book reviewer salivating - a posthumous collection of fiction by a 20th century literary giant. And Alan Cheuse is chewing on two. Italo Calvino - "Into The War" and Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale."

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Reading these two books, it's like partaking of one of those fabled banquets of desserts. So I seized the opportunity to read as many of these stories as I could at one sitting. That's easy with the Calvino volume. The Italian story writer, born in Cuba and raised in San Remo, Italy, near the French border, young Calvino was forced to join a Fascist youth group with a lot of other Italian adolescents who spilled over the border at the Riviera into France. Out of this experience came these three early stories, which translator Martin McLaughlin has put together into a slim volume under the title "Into The War," each piece thoroughly autobiographical and realistic, each based on Calvino's time as a reluctant but observant teenage militarist.

The true pleasure of reading this early work comes from young Calvino's easeful sense of metaphor - how, for example, marching among the Art Nouveau buildings abandoned by the French gives the (reading) the feeling of a theater with its lights out, with scenery discarded and in disrepair.

And his lines show off a prodigy at the job of creating mood, as when the young narrator, (reading) wandering along the seafront with its low, prickly palm trees notices the (reading) slow beating of the sea against the rocks mingled with the natural stillness of the countryside and enclosed in a kind of circle the deserted city and its unnatural silence, which was broken now and again by isolated noises echoing through it - the ta-ra-ra of a trumpet, a song, the roar of a motorbike.

These first pages suggest just how much Calvino would give us later in life.

Quite a contrast with the thick volume of stories from Philip K. Dick - work he published from the early '60s to the early '80s. Almost all of it reads like a product of his full-blown genius. Of the more than two dozen pieces collected here, fans of his work will be pleased to find the title story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," which led to two movies based on this single piece and a number of other brilliant tales that play with the notion of chance and time, the illusory nature of reality and the fragile construct we call identity.

The majority of these stories are what we might call concept pieces, stories that come alive as a way of responding to some fascinating conundrums. What if time runs in reverse? What if a girl's father dies and comes to reside in her abdomen and psychosis reality and reality psychosis? And death life and life death?

I know it may sound like Philip K. Dick story, but how I wish that we could bring back both him and Calvino to write and write again.

MARTIN: The two books are "Into The War" by Italo Calvino and "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" Philip K. Dick. Alan Cheuse had our review.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.