What Da Cover Says: Boundless as the Sky is a book of the invisible histories that repose beneath the cities we inhabit, and the worlds we try to build out of words. The first of its two parts, stories of real and invented cities, some ancient, some dystopian, is a response to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. The second part comes together into one narrative, taking place in a single city—Chicago—on a single day in 1933. It is based closely on a true event, the arrival of a “roaring armada of goodwill” in the form of twenty-four seaplanes flown in a display of fascist power by Mussolini’s wingman Italo Balbo to Chicago’s “Century of Progress” World’s Fair. These two panels of Raffel’s poetic diptych call out to each other with a mysterious and disquieting harmony, and from history and fantasy to the dangers and dark realities of the current moment with startling insight and urgency.
What I says: Before I started this book I decided to read Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino first as I had never read it and thought the first half of Raffel’s book may not have any meaning to me. I’m glad I did as it gave Calvino’s book more shape, from Raffel’s response I understood more of what was going on in the first book and I was able to get what Raffel was saying here (well maybe, I could have gone in a completely different direction than Raffel intended). It does feel like a response to Calvino, Raffel is saying how different things are now and at the same time hardly different at all, the cities we inhabit or imagine ain’t that much different to Calvino’s time, we may have climate change and social media but the people in Calvino’s cities faced their own demons too.
The second half of Raffel’s book is rather spectacular…in fact taking inspiration from Raffel herself:
beautiful in a dramatic and eye-catching way:
“spectacular mountain scenery”
Raffel takes an event, Chicago’s “Century of Progress” World’s Fair, which I hadn’t heard of before and a host of real life characters and created this story based around their lives for this single day. Different writing techniques and voices creates something that feels very real, and there is a darkness just under the surface that feels dangerous, the list of how a woman should behave and the police who turn a blind eye to crimes gives you a feeling of imminent chaos. The best thing about this book for me was that real people were used and I spent quite a while on google looking them up. I also loved how this felt like a riddle and each chapter gives the reader another piece of the puzzle.
About the Author
Dawn Raffel is the author of five books, most recently The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies. Other books include two short story collections, a novel, and a memoir. Her stories have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including NOON, BOMB, Conjunctions, Exquisite Pandemic, New American Writing, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, Best Small Fictions, and more.