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Italo Calvino: Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (The Path to the Nest of Spiders)

Calvino’s first novel was written for a contest sponsored by the publisher Mondadori. Calvino’s novel did not do well in the contest, so he took it to another publisher, Einaudi, who agreed to publish it. It did win a prize but not many sales. When it was written neorealism was all the vogue in Italy, in both literature and cinema, and this is Calvino’s contribution to that movement Those who come to this work after reading his later works may be in for something of a surprise.

Pin is a young teenager. He and his sister are orphans. She works as a prostitute and, at the start of the novel, is the lover of a German sailor. Pin hangs out with a rough crowd. They challenge him to steal the German’s gun, which he manages to do. But, for the men, it was just a bit of fun and when they don’t recognise his bravery, he runs away and hides it in his secret place where the spiders nest. He is arrested on the way home by the Germans for breaking curfew and knocked around. At this stage, this is still a boy’s adventure story but now he gets involved with the partisans. The partisans are a rough group but not very competent and he switches between wondering about their actions and his attempts to become a man, like them.

While certainly not his best novel and, in many respects immature, it does give us a child’s perspective of the often unpleasant adult world of the time. We also get a glimpse of what the partisans were really like. While they might have been brave, they certainly were not saints. Calvino was a Communist at the time and he makes it clear that he accepts these men as they are, both for their bravery and as ordinary men, with all that that entails.

Publishing history

First published 1947 by Einaudi
First published in English 1956 by Collins