The first story, “Vavylon,” is about a city whose social hierarchy is reflected in the design of the city. Anyone, it is asserted with egalitarian zeal, can reach the highest levels – provided, that is, they can climb its well-greased ramps. In “Gnossos,”a retelling of the Icarus myth, the high-soaring Icarus discerns the one way out of the labyrinthine city his father Dedalus designed. As his wings melt and he plunges toward the city it transform into a network of honeycomb cells, the smooth walls of each containing a solitary citizen, each holding a ball of yarn. In “Dava,” a brilliantly imaginative piece with a striking conclusion, three climbers summit a remote peak in what they believe is a first ascent, only to discover evidence of previous climbers and, more remarkably, a precipitous, saddleback ridge leading to an unmapped and even steeper peak capped by a citadel. “Sah-Harah” is another perfectly executed story about which I’ll say nothing more than that it brings the best of Borges to mind.
These stories were written at the very same time that Italo Calvino was composing his similarly wonderful and fantastical book Invisible Cities, both authors unaware of the other’s work. Săsărman’s book was suppressed by Romanian censors before eventually being released in mutilated form in 1975. It did not appear in its complete form until 1992 when it was translated into French. Ursula K. Le Guin, the multiple-award-winning doyenne of fantasy fiction, (whose too often overlooked Earthsea series I frequently recommend to Harry Potter fans) has done a painstaking job of translating these selected stories beautifully into English. In staying with its original design, Săsărman’s own bold geometric drawings preface each story.