The title of this wonderful novel by Italo Calvino is already a masterpiece. As soon I saw saw the book on s shop shelf, I bought it on impulse because of its title. To the Russian ear, it had immediate connotations with the famous passage from Chekhov’s “Ionych”:
Then they all sat down in the drawing-room with very serious faces, and Vera Iosifovna read her novel. It began like this: “The frost was intense… .” The windows were wide open; from the kitchen came the clatter of knives and the smell of fried onions… . It was comfortable in the soft deep arm-chair; the lights had such a friendly twinkle in the twilight of the drawing-room, and at the moment on a summer evening when sounds of voices and laughter floated in from the street and whiffs of lilac from the yard, it was difficult to grasp that the frost was intense, and that the setting sun was lighting with its chilly rays a solitary wayfarer on the snowy plain. Vera Iosifovna read how a beautiful young countess founded a school, a hospital, a library, in her village, and fell in love with a wandering artist; she read of what never happens in real life, and yet it was pleasant to listen — it was comfortable, and such agreeable, serene thoughts kept coming into the mind, one had no desire to get up.
In Russia of “the period of stagnation”, the expression “The frost was intense” (“мороз крепчал”) became proverbial and was transformed into a less politically correct, but more politically charged, derivative.
And I was delighted to discover that my instinctive choice was correct and that, indeed, Calvino’s book “did exactly what it said on the tin“!