Antonio Tabucchi: Sogni di sogni – Dreams of Dreams (1992)

Elaborately imagined…mini-catalog of great artists’ dreams and the author’s interpretation of the last three days in the life of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Tabucchi’s rich language and his magical-realist charm tinge the volume with a visionary glow.

Antonio Tabucchi’s Sogni di sogni or Dreams of Dreams is a collection of sketches or short pieces, circling around the life and work of different authors, painters, musicians and other famous people. Arranged in chronological order they all tell of an imaginary dream of the person to whom the story is dedicated. At the end of the book, a short biography of each of the men gives some of the most important details about their life.

While this may not be an ideal starting point for someone who isn’t familiar with Tabucchi, it’s an amazing introduction into the Western European cultural heritage. It’s an amazing little book. To be able to write something that is equally enchanting, inspiring and instructive, is admirable. On the other hand it shows what a wonderful writer Tabucchi was. The short sketches are written in a beautiful and highly evocative prose that reminded me of the intensity of elaborate and sumptuous Persian miniatures.

If you are familiar with the men included in the book, it will enhance the experience but it’s not necessary.

To give you an idea of what Tabucchi does in this book, I’ll pick the example of Ovid. In his dream, Ovid sees himself not only loved by his emperor but transformed into a giant butterfly. Only when he stands in front of the emperor and should perform one of his poems, all that comes from his mouth is a high-pitched whistling sound. He tries to move his wings instead and perform his poem like a pantomime but this infuriates the emperor. Angered he has Ovid’s wings cut off. When they fall to the ground, Ovid knows he will die.

Hidden behind this sketch is an allusion to Ovid’s most famous work, the Metamorphoses and the whole tragic life story of one of the greatest poets of all times, who spent his last years disgraced and banned from Rome, in Tomis, on the Black Sea.

Here is the list of all of the people included in the book:

Lucius Apuleius
Cecco Angiolieri
François Villon
François Rabelais
Francisco Goya
Samuel T. Coleridge
Giacomo Leopardi
Carlo Collodi
R. L. Stevenson
Arthur Rimbaud
Anton Chekhov
Claude Debussy
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Fernando Pessoa
Vladimir Mayakovsky
Frederico Garcia Lorca
Sigmund Freud

Sogni di sogni is highly imaginative and one of those books that opens doors. It will make you want to explore the people and works behind each chapter. It certainly made me want to read more of Tabucchi, one of the most amazing and creative Italian writers who sadly died earlier this year.

It’s often difficult to find Italian books in translation but Tabucchi is one of the rare authors who has been extensively translated. Some of the newest books are not out in English yet but most of his earlier ones are.

Have you read Tabucchi? Would you be interested in a Tabucchi week?

48 thoughts on “Antonio Tabucchi: Sogni di sogni – Dreams of Dreams (1992)

  1. I’m so glad you liked this, Caroline. Ideal or not, Dreams of Dreams also served as my starting point for Tabucchi’s work, and I haven’t stopped reading him since. I just recently read the short Pessoa piece appended to the end of this City Lights edition, since it had not been included in the French version of Dreams of Dreams I’d read long ago. I thought it was a great little entertainment – all of Pessoa’s heteronyms coming to visit him at his deathbed.

    Writing a book of dreams (even if they’re completely invented as they are here) seems to me to require both courage and some real talent to make it succeed. I don’t know of many authors who’d even attempt such a collection. Naguib Mafouz apparently put out a book recounting his own dreams, so I’m curious to read it to see how a author of his stature might handle writing up real dreams…

    • I think it does give an idea of his writing but people shy away in general from shorter pieces, that’s why I’m not sure how good an introduction it would be. On the other hand, he isn’t a traditional/conventional novelist.
      I saw someone comapring it to Borges collection of dreams. I might get that.
      It would really be interesting to read that Mafouz book, thanks for mentioning it.
      I wonder why the Pessoa piece isn’tin the French edition? That’s odd. It belongs in there.

  2. Sounds like a winner, Caroline. One of my local bookstores got a new shipment of Tabucchis in this week, and I had to fight off the urge to buy one since I’ve been going a little crazy with that lately. Yes, please host a Tabucchi week so I can have an excuse to buy a new book by him…. 😀

  3. I am seriously impressed by your readings lately. You have read one great book after another. This one sounds amazing and I love the list of people in the book. I haven’t heard of this book, but I will keep an eye out now.

    • I think he did something quite neat in this book. You can feel that he really admires all of these poeple has read a lot about them and knows their work.
      He is a writer to discvover, if you don’t know him yet. His Indian Nocturne is one of my favourite books.
      Yes, I was quite lucky with my last few choices. 🙂

      • I saw that my library has a copy of one of his books, but I can’t recall the name. Unfortunately I will be out of town the first week in July so I won’t be able to join in on the week.

          • I think that was the name. I’ll have to check it out and hopefully I can join in. I’ll be out of town until the 15th but maybe I can write it ahead of time. I don’t want you to change all the stuff around for me. Summer is a hard time to coordinate with holidays.

  4. I had not heard of Tabucchi before. As someone who is very interested in the relationships between different authors and cultural works this book seems right up my ally.

    I am curious, did you detect any connections between the various segments in the book?

    • I think you would like Tabucchi because he is one of those authors whose every book leads you to new discoveries. The work of Fernando Pessoa is very importnat in amyn of them but there are allusions to painters and musicians as well.
      I didn’t think the “pieces” were connected but they are similar. He interweaves elemenst of the works with the biography. The biographical elements at the end are interesting as well as they are very personal. He doesn’t always mention what I thought was important but what was important for him.
      Many of his books are very melancholic and poetical.

  5. This sounds amazing. Is Tabucchi the man who wrote Pereira Maintains? Only I have that to read one of these days. If you enjoyed this, I would recommend Einstein’s Dreams to you, by Alan Lightman. That’s another wonderfully imaginative book.

    • I think you would like this very much – if you can oversee the fact that he didn’t include any women – . And, yes, he is the author of Pereira Maintains… You could read it if I manage to set a date for the Tabucchi week. 🙂

  6. aha! I think this book is far superior than the book you have just reviewed (which I read prior to this) the title itself intriqued me. Can this be interpreted as sureal?

    • I knew most of them but even those I didn’t were interesting to read as there is the mini-biography at the end.
      I still think, despite what Scott says, this isn’t a book to start with.
      If you’d like to read him, amybe you can wait for Tabucchi week?

        • And August you are on holidays?
          I think the one you have is one of a few not translated yet. I haven’t read it. But that’s all the better, we want some diversity.
          Maybe the first week in August after all?

          • Sorry for the belated reply, things are a bit crazy at the moment.

            I’ll be on holiday in August but not off line, I’m staying in France.
            I can’t believe I managed to pick one that wasn’t translated into English.

            Why not the first week of August, then.

            • Emma, it has been translated. I mixed it up with another one that I want to read. Yes, I have the badge ready for the first week in August. 6- 13 or so.

  7. Wow, this sounds like my kind of book! I haven’t read anything by Tabucchi before but am really intrigued by this. I love the idea of a Tabucchi week, but my plans are too unclear for me to commit to anything right now – we may stay in Barbados, we may be back in England, or travelling… So count me out for now!

    • Andrew, I’m sure you would like him. His Indina Noturne is one of my all time favourites. It may be a bit hard to get. “It’s Getting Later All the Time” is another great one.
      I might schedule the week for end of July. If you can join, it’s great, if not the maybe you will still read him?

  8. I’ve never read Tabucci, but I am always interested in learning about (and reading more) Italian authors. Not sure if this is the best place to start with his work (though I like reading fiction that intersects with art), but I wouldn’t mind trying his work sometime.

    • I thought this collection was extremely well done, almost like little paintings. Much shorter than short stories, only about 2-4 pages each. I think you would love “It’s Getting Later All the Time”. I want to reread it this year. Or rather finsih it as I had to put it aside a while back for some reason. But I loved it.

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  10. This looks like a beautiful book, Caroline! Thanks for reviewing it! The structure of the book looks quite interesting. I am dying to know what Tabucchi says about Rabelais, Coleridge, Stevenson and Rimbaud 🙂 I read an essay on Coleridge by Anne Fadiman sometime back and it made me laugh aloud – Coleridge was one interesting character! A Tabucchi week is a wonderful idea!

    • It is very beautiful. I had a feeling that many of the charcaters he chose had an interesting life or were interesting people. Coleridge was a peculiar one. I’m glad you would be interested in a Tabucchi week. He is a wonderful writer. i would love to hear what you would think about my favourite “Indian Nocturne”. It seems only available in used copies though.

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    • That is wonderful news. I’m not sure when you will be in France? Is it July? I think I’ll do that intro post without a date and let people choose.

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