I admit straight up that I have an obsession with water. My mother always called me her waterbaby, and I am never happier than when I am immersed in cool clear waves. There is a caveat: the water must be clear, I like to see exactly what I’m swimming with. It was in just such circumstances that I started reading Invisible Cities. I had water up to my chest, and it was crystal clear. I stood in the bay, my legs dancing with the pull of the current while I read this book in the pink evening sun. It was the most perfect way to begin this book about journeys.
The conceit is a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, a version of Scheherazade’s quest, but one where Polo describes the cities he has visited. Each city has a feminine name, and each city is unknowable. They are also all the same city. The story draws on motifs such as the flaneur and the city as palimpsest to guide the reader, and Khan, through Polo’s travels. The prose is poetic, the words capture beauty, but it feels like I cannot hold the images in my head. Like waves, they push against me and then pass over me, they move me but leave me, they force me to move if I want to keep my balance, but, like the water, the story makes my movement graceful, instead of ungainly as it usually is.
This is a book I will come back to. It is one you can revisit in any order, each city is a work of art on her own terms. There is a gently magic to each city, but it is that urban magic, that is familiar to those of us who live between laneways and windows. If you are looking for something beautiful to read, and reread, something for red wine, a quilt and rain, something for standing waist deep in crystal waters, grab this book and let it take you places.