The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino
In an act of rebellion the son and heir of an 18th century Italian nobleman climbs into the trees of his family's estate and refuses to come back down. Thus opens Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees.
Aided by his brother Biagio who narrates the novel, Cosimo spends the rest of his life off-ground. He scouts arboreal routes throughout the surrounding countryside, interacts with townspeople, befriends a brigand, adopts a dog, fights pirates, becomes baron himself, has love affairs, reads widely, finds and loses the love of his life...
It is the time of Voltaire and Rousseau, the age of enlightenment, and Cosimo is enthralled with the new ideas of equality, fraternity, liberty and reason. These emergent ideals, as it turns out, are unequal to transforming human nature and society, but Cosimo has been changed, and throughout his life, and death, he defies convention and remains that rarest of birds, an individual. ("'I too,' replied Cosimo, 'have lived many years for ideals which I would never be able to explain to myself; but I do something entirely good. I live on trees.'")
Fantastical and yet mundane (after all, a life is a life, full of the usual ups and downs, even when that life is lived in the trees!), Baron is a celebration of the individual in the sense we think of that, as sovereign of one's own life.
Although very different in style, in Italo Calvino and Jody Scott, born the same year, I detect a similar moral compass, for Baron is morality tale (as perhaps all fairytales are), but one that can also be read and enjoyed just for its sheer quixotic whimsy. Highly recommended.
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