My god, I wish I came across this book when I was 13. I loved it at 33, and don't doubt I'll love it just as much when I eventually reread it (which I'm sure I will), but I think I would have loved it even more then. And not simply for its content—though as an avid tree-climber it would doubtless have gripped me--but for its melancholic whimsy. It reminds me in tone of Winnie the Pooh and, in a sense harder to define, of Louis Sachar’s Wayside books. Stories that seemed so fully realised that as a child I fell into them, walked about their pages for a while, and emerged at the final chapter ever so slightly changed.
The main character is Cosimo Piovasco directed Rondo, who at the age of 12 has a fight with his father over dinner that leads him to climb into the trees and never come down. The story is narrated by his younger brother, who often relies on secondhand information and freely admits that certain passages are supposition on his part--a device that lends both uncertainty and verisimilitude to the story. The rest of the book is an episodic chronicling of Cosimo's life in the trees, with passages both prosaic (his inventive solutions for toiletry, sleep, and commerce) and heroic (battles with pirates and treacherous Jesuits). I loved the former as much as the latter, and the whole story flows effortless as q long campfire fable.
The prose is translated from the Italian, but retains a bit of Mediterranean flavour, evocative but not florid. It avoids the common pitfall of first person narratives where the narrator takes on the cadence of capital N Narration, losing the voice of the person who is supposedly telling the story. I never doubted the voice used here.
Italo Calvino is a name I'd heard for some time but never pursued, knowing nothing about him apart from that he was an author. I found The Baron in the Trees as a fluke, as it was mentioned in the comments of a Guardian article about a man who spent 2 years in a tree. Such happy accidents reinforce the value of always keeping an ear out for new titles. Sometimes the best stories come to you from unexpected places.