Cosimo di Rondâo, a young Italian nobleman of the eighteenth century, rebels against his parents by climbing into the trees and remaining there for the rest of his life. He adapts efficiently to an existence in the forest canopy--he hunts, sows crops, plays games with earth-bound friends, fights forest fires, solves engineering problems, and even manages to have love affairs. From his perch in the trees, Cosimo sees the Age of Enlightenment pass by and a new century dawn.
It is one of the more straighter stories of Calvino’s but doesn’t suffer from this. The book manages to encompass the whole sweeping events of his life with a deft touch taking judicious turns to be light hearted, then thoughtful or just tense. All humanity is covered and whilst elevating Cosimo Calvino manages to concentrate on all our everyday dramas as well on philosophy and society as a whole.
Simply enjoy its oddity or ponder its questions this is a delightful read and one I recommend to everyone.
A young nobleman, Cosimo, was enraged when his eccentric sister made dinner out of his pet snails. So when his father ordered him to eat, he ran up a tree and swore to stay there forever. And he did, from his adolescence up to old age, becoming famous as the Baron in the Trees. Even at the death of his parents, he remained in the trees nearby, watching and helping -- but not coming down. Even when the Baron dies, he finds a way to ascend even higher...
Without leaving the trees, he manages to hunt animals, educate himself with great philosophers, adopts an abandoned dog, lends bestselling books to a local bandito, battles pirates who are conspiring with his uncle, has an affair with a promiscuous Marchesa, and even lives with a band of tree-dwelling Spanish exiles.
"Baron in the Trees" is a whimsical little story on the surface, until you look deeper at the message of "living in trees." Cosimo removes himself from the ground, and also removes himself from the worries of ordinary people -- social position, power, material goods. He's happy just to have friends, books, and his own private kingdom.
But even if you take it at face value, "Baron in the Trees" is an enchanting little story. Calvino's lush, detailed writing is always full of a child's wonder, and he sounds like he's living his own fantasies as he describes how Cosimo manages to sleep (a sort of fur cocoon), store his possessions and fall in live... while never stepping out of the tree. But Calvino manages to convey the bittersweetness of Cosimo's life: While he loves his odd life, he also knows that it alienates him from the rest of the world and leaves him alone.
Cosimo himself is a relatively distant character, since the whole book is through the eyes of his otherwise-unimportant brother. But he is surrounded by equally quirky characters -- his Jesuit-phobic father, "general" mother, creepy disgraced sister, and an array of book-loving bandits, odd priests, and peasants who get used to the tree-dwelling Baron.
A sweet, quirky fable about a young man who just won't come down to earth, "The Baron in the Trees" is a truly enchanting read.
Italo Calvino is a wonderful writer, and whether the Baron's adventures are funny, sad, thought-provoking or all three, they are beautifully told. I also liked the ways in which the baron changes, mostly for the better, the lives of those below him. Strongly recommended.
The Baron in the Trees is the second volume in the fantasy trilogy, Our Ancestors with The Cloven Viscount (1952) and The Nonexistent Knight (1959) comprising the first and third volumes, respectively. On publication, various Italian critics complained of "the 'tired' feel of the plot in the second half of the novel" and noted other problems with the novel. Despite these perceived flaws, critic Martin McLaughlin argues that the novel "remains something of a tour de force in Calvino's oeuvre. It is an extraordinarly successful attempt to reproduce a utopian, philosophical conte for the 1950s, with a whole range of intertextual allusions and a sophisticated parody of the poetics of the early English moralising novel as practised by Richardson ad parodied by Fielding". Having read Fielding I agree, but also appreciate the relative brevity of Calvino's approach.
The Publisher Says: Cosimo, a young eighteenth-century Italian nobleman, rebels by climbing into the trees to remain there for the rest of his life. He adapts efficiently to an arboreal existence and even has love affairs.
My Review: This being a famous and well-studied book, I suppose the publisher didn't feel the need to do a sell-job on it. That little squib is barely a log-line!
I read this book first in ~1974, because it had a cool-looking jacket. It also had an Italian author, which was also cool. But the reading of it was a revelation because the titular Baron was the perfect rebel, firm of purpose and adamant of spirit. And all over what seems, at first anyway, such a ridiculous cause: Refusing to eat snails. I'd never had snails offered to me at that point, and I was in full agreement with the Baron. But as the pages flipped on, I could see what was really at stake was the right to set one's own boundaries, to establish a core identity by and for one's own self.
All adolescents resonate to that theme, I think, and that's why I'm surprised that this book isn't required reading until college. It would serve well in junior or senior year of high school. Anything that deals with the process and price of becoming and being an individual seems to me to be a good fit for that age. Plus it's beautifully translated, so it's easy to read.
And for the record, I ate snails the first time they were offered to me. They were delicious.