An avid reader is excited to finally have received a copy of "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" by Italo Calvino, only to find that he has purchased a misprinted copy and his efforts to obtain the correct version introduce him to a beautiful fellow fan of Calvino, a professor of an obscure language and a shadowy figure intent on spreading chaos throughout the world of literature. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler begins with the protagonist, known only as “the Reader”, eagerly breaking open his recently purchased copy of Italo Calvino's newest novel called If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. He begins to read and he's really getting into it; the story he's reading about concerns a shadowy train station and a man who is grappling with the fact that he has just realized he is a playing piece in a plot he was not aware of before. He reads 31 pages into the novel before he comes to a halt, as he has noticed that after 31 pages the novel repeats itself starting from the beginning. Frustrated, he flips through the rest of the book only to find that it is the same throughout; the novel only repeats the first 31 pages. The next day the Reader storms into the bookstore and demands an explanation for the book's condition. The clerk tells him that not only is the Reader not the first to complain that morning but he has also received a note from the publisher stating that there was a printing mistake and that the novel the Reader had begun to read was not in fact an Italo Calvino novel but one by Polish author Tazio Bazakbal called Outside the town of Malbork. Deciding that he would now rather finish the novel he had started as opposed to the one by Italo Calvino he grabs a copy of Outside the town of Malbork. While still at the checkout, the clerk points out the other Reader who had come in earlier that day to voice her complaints about the publishing mistake; a young and attractive woman perusing the Penguin classics a few aisles over. Attracted, and deciding to use their shared disgruntlement to start a conversation with her, the Reader goes over to her and attempts to impress her using his (not very impressive) reading repertoire. He brings the conversation around to the polish novel they have both purchased and then suggests that they exchange phone numbers so that they can contact each if for some reason they encounter another problem. Later that evening as he opens the book, it is obvious from the first line that what he actually holds is not in any way related to the story he began reading the night before. The Reader calls the young woman from the bookstore, Ludmilla, and immediately begins to rattle off possible conjectures when he is interrupted by the voice on the other end of the line who somewhat condescendingly tells him she is in fact Ludmilla's sister Lotaria. This is a disappointment to the reader and to top it off, Lotaria is pressuring him into attending a book decoding seminar at the nearby university. He half-heartedly agrees and then Ludmilla is put on the phone and they confirm that they both have encountered the same problem. The Reader insists that Ludmilla and he meet in order to discuss the problem in person. She agrees but under the condition that they meet at the nearby university where a friend of hers, a professor, might be able to help them get to the bottom of the mixed up novels. He arrives at the University punctually and begins to look around for Ludmilla who seems to be late. After some time of wandering around looking for Ludmilla's professor's office, he meets a young man named Irnerio who seems to know Ludmilla and helpfully leads the Reader to the professor's office. Professor Uzzi-Tuzzi is a student of Cimmerian, an outdated language that has ties to the most recently read publishing mistake. The Reader inquires if the professor knows anything about the Bazakbal novel and the professor excitedly whips out a copy. “Ah, yes,” he exclaims, “But the novel you read is actually not by the author Bazakbal but by a Cimmerian poet by the name of Ukko Ahti! And the novel is not called Outside the town of Malbork but Leaning from the Steep Slope. The professor begins to read the first chapter aloud and it is clear that this has nothing to do with the story the Reader had begun previously. At some point during the reading, Ludmilla silently appears. The three begin discussing the reading experience when Ludmilla's sister Lotaria also appears followed by a gaggle of young women. She informs Ludmilla that she has found the full copy of Outside the town of Malbork but it is actually a novel called Without fear of Wind or Vertigo and it is written by Vorts Viljandi. She invites you to join her study group, led by Professor Uzzi-Tuzzi's rival colleague, where they will be discussing the novel and so the Reader and Ludmilla join the group but quickly find that once again, the novel being discussed has no connection to any other the previous novels but as yet, they are both intrigued by this new story.
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At this point, the two reader realize there is something bigger happening behind the scenes. The Reader visits the publishing house directly and speaks to a Mr. Cavedagna who informs him that the entire publishing house has been thrown into chaos by a fraudulent translator who has switched all of the book titles, authors and contents.
The Reader decides to search for the translator, a man named Ermes Marana. He learns that he might be in the country of Ataguitania and decides to fly there and confront him. Once in the country, he searches for him high and low and even gets in trouble with the local police for his efforts but can't seem to find the elusive translator. Discouraged, the Reader returns home empty handed and no closer to solving the mystery of the books that have only beginnings but no endings when he runs into Lotaria. The two discuss his journey and his frustration at only having the beginning to every story and never the end. It is here that Lotaria informs him that every story can only end one of two ways; with death or with a marriage. It is then that the Reader decides he wants to marry Ludmilla and the two do in fact end up marrying each other.
Best part of story, including ending:
This book is about what is means to be a reader and the anticipation of cracking open a fresh story and as a reader that really appealed to me. This book really romanticized the practice of reading.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is when the Reader visits professor Uzzi-Tuzzi in his office and there's this description of the office covered in oak furniture and stacks of papers and books, there's a really romantic and studious feel to it which I liked. I liked putting myself in that setting of classic academia.
Opinion about the main character:
The main character is somewhat arrogant. I didn't like this. He tries to hit on Ludmilla initially by impressing her with his vast knowledge of books, of which he doesn't have much to begin with and ends up just faking his way through it. It's a bit slimy.