20 best genre fiction writers from other countries to expand your horizons

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2. Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino is another one of those writers who is very definitely a genre writer, yet is also an author who is generally beloved by literary critics. It’s not that an artist can’t be both things at once. There isn’t some sort of invisible line between the author that writes things that appear in The Paris Review and the one whose paperbacks pop up in your local grocery store.

Yet, it sometimes feels as if there is a manufactured border between “real” authors and popular ones. If that’s true, then it’s nonsense. At any rate, you should be able to enjoy authors and books to your heart’s content, with only a little real estate reserved for literary reviews. If nothing else, Italo Calvino’s work appeals to both sides.

It’s hard to say just where to start with Calvino’s work — his bibliography is massive. Like Borges, some of his best work is in short stories, though Calvino also worked as a journalist. You might start with The Castle of Crossed Destinies, for one. It’s actually a pair of stories that tell what happens to a group of travelers who are stranded (in one story, they’re in a castle; in the other, an inn) and cannot speak to one another. Of course, people still want to communicate. They manage to tell their own stories by laying out playing cards in a given order.

Or maybe you want to read Invisible Cities, in which a semi-fictional Marco Polo speaks with the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire. Polo tells the Khan of a different fabulous city for each conversation, relating the history and society of each settlement as if it were its own story. Invisible Cities grows steadily darker and darker, until Polo appears to be relating his own strange vision of hell.