Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino

The Baron in the TreesThe Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1767 twelve-year-old Cosimo di Rondo, the oldest son of an Italian Baron, climbs into a tree outside his house in protest at being forced to eat snails for dinner. His family tells him to come down at once, but he refuses, in fact he vows that his feet will never touch the ground again, and so begins the chronicle of the strangest of lives, told by his brother, as Cosimo lives out his days in the branches of trees.

This story is what the film ‘Ivul’ by Andrew Kotting was loosely based on, and I enjoyed that – mostly the magical conceit of someone living in the treetops. The film has to stick with what is achievable practically on a low-budget, but in the book, though it feigns a practical air, there is the possibility for much more fantastical imagery. The similarity though is that they both set out to portray the idea of an acrobatic man (not a superhero, but someone like there rest of us, with human failings) living in the trees.

So many things about this amazing idea seem already to exist for me in the back of my mind. That childhood game of ‘Don’t step on the ground’ taken to the craziest extreme. The idea of a tree house, but here anything can be taken up into a tree, furniture, beds, printing presses! The possibility of leaping across spaces in the air, not like Spiderman, but just with effortless jumps, like walking on air, or balancing like an acrobat, (similarities again with ‘Man on Wire’ and ‘Mr Vertigo’.) Especially good are all the scenes between Viola and Cosimo and their arboreal affair. Viola, is such a headstrong character too that she is more than a match for Cosimo.

Though there are many other ideas that run through the story it is not overtly allegorical, like Paulo Cohelo or someone like that would make it. There are images that hint at the spiritual, images of treetops and sky-scapes that sing in the context of the story, and then there are moments about relationships and love or war and politics, but all seen from above in the trees, . Over all it feels like a beautiful evocation of longing for something more and the possibility of living so lightly on the earth and so lightly as a human, that you might float away in the end. I think this is what Cosimo is trying to achieve and he does it in his own strange quirky way, often failing and stubborn, but true to his beliefs to the end.

View all my reviews

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: