Sunday, 10 July 2016

Silk by Alessandro Baricco

Silk by Alessandro Baricco
First published in Italian as Seta in 1996. English translation by Ann Goldstein in 2006.

Featured in 5Books1Theme: Books To Film and WorldReads: Italy

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1861 French silkworm merchant Hervé Joncour travels to Japan, where he encounters the mysterious Hara Kei. He develops a painful longing for Kei’s beautiful concubine – but they cannot touch; they don’t even speak. And he cannot read the note she sends him until he has returned to his own country. But the moment he does, Joncour is enslaved.

Subtle, tender and surprising, Silk is an evocative tale of erotic possession.

I borrowed a paperback copy of Silk by Alessandro Baricco from my friend who absolutely loved this book. Written by an Italian author, the story is set in 1860s France and Japan. A French merchant, Herve Joncour, leaves his small town every year to buy silk worm eggs. He travels for a couple of months to the Middle East and always returns on the same date. However, diseased silk worms threaten bankruptcy for the town's silk mills so Herve is encouraged to travel much further, to isolated Japan, in search of healthy silk worm eggs.

The story in Silk is almost incidental to the book itself. The novella's great strength is its beautifully understated writing style which often feels Japanese. The incredible journey to Japan is described briefly, but this passage is repeated word for word each time Herve undertakes the voyage. The repetition reinforces our understanding of his effort. Once in the island nation, his clandestine purchases lead him to meet a concubine. Although the two never even speak, he becomes obsessed with her, taking his obsession home alongside his silk worm eggs. The scenes are so delicately written that they were unlike pretty much anything else I remember reading. At times I found the prose almost too ethereal and I couldn't completely accept the premise of such deep love based on such fleeting encounters. I would recommend Silk though, purely for the beauty of its prose.

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  1. This sounds like a really beautiful read! I have the book on my TBR pile and it just moved closer to the top because of your review. Thanks for pointing out the beauty of its prose as one of its strengths.

    1. I think you will enjoy Silk. It's a book to take time over appreciating the words and atmosphere as well as the story.