Friday, December 31, 2010

Silk - Alessandro Baricco

"The year was 1861, Flaubert was writing Salammbo. electric light remain hypothetical, and Abraham Lincoln, beyond the ocean, was fighting a war which he was not to see finish"

Hervé Joncour, is a 32 year old silk breeder from small town of Lavilledieu in Southern France, When the epidemic stuck the plants in Europe, he had to rely on supplies from Syria and other Arab countries. While the young Scientist Louis Pastuer, continued his effort to identify the cause and find remedy, Hervé Joncour continued to engage in his thriving business of importing the silk worms from these part of the world, on advise of his mentor Baldabiou. The trip usually involves 3 months of voyage through the sea and the rest on horse back across the Arab countries, returning with Silk worms tracing the path back to reach to the gates of Lavilledieu on the first Sunday of April.

It is during one of his discussion with Baldabiou, the discussion of Japan came in. According to Baldabiou, Japan is a country in isolation with rest of the world and every attempt to engage with them in trade was always rejected and dealt with cruelly. Japan is one of the largest producer of silk and some of the islands are rich with Silk. Thus started his adventure to travel around the world to Japan in search of the hidden treasure. He starts his journey through Austria, Germany through Eastern Europe to Ukraine, crossing Urals, through Siberia, along the borders of China to the eastern most tip of the continent. Seeking the support of Dutch smugglers, he lands in one of the remote island of Japan. It here, he meets the local henchman Hara Kei,  "the most elusive man in Japan, master of all that the world contrived to carry off the island." More than HaraKei, its the girl who rests her head on his lap, the girl whose "eyes did not have an Oriental slant", that get his attention. Apart from the intense stare, there was no contact , whatsoever with this girl. But is to her was attracted, an attraction he is not able to explain, the rejuvenation of his love, his romantic self . They do not talk, never be in physical contact, but the image of the girl with 'no oriental slant" eyes, takes him back to the islands over and over again despite the trouble and the danger of ongoing civil war in Japan. He rediscovers the romantic in himself, even though he realise that the girl is beyond his reach ( I guess in his fourth trip), which bring about changes in his personal and family life. It is at this time, he gets a letter written in beautiful Japanese Characters, posted in Belgium, that changes his life fore ever.

Baricco uses the repetition of phrases and paragraphs, interestingly in this book. The one above is one such example. The other interesting thing is the way he describes the journey.  Over his five trips to Japan, the landscape takes a slight changes over the years. The Central Europe remain the same, but the changes starts from the eastern part of Europe, the Siberian paths, the bordering China and the wait for the pirate ship to take him to Japan. On each journey, Lake Baikal is different ( assumes different names from sea to demon). His journey changes being on foot, to horse and at the last on train. However, the arrival date remain same as first Sunday of April. There is also notable changes in his behavior to his wife and the surroundings. We understand that the couple does not have children and do not have the best of relationships. However, after each journey, there is changes in their relationship, to the last pages even after the 'beans are spilled'.

The blurb, says it as a erotic tour de force, and I am not sure why. Except for his attraction to the non-interactive lady of the Japanese Henchman, which pulls him back to the place often, and the so called in-comprehensive letter with Japanese Character which the old lady of the brothel translates ( which the vulgar more than being erotic or sensual), there isn't anything to call this as an erotic. Yes, there is an under current of slight sensuality, very subtle.

From the angle of a minimalist literature, this book is interesting. Beautifully written and cleverly deployed plots. More than what is written,  what is left makes it a better reading. The curiosity is maintained through out and finished pretty well. The book was having rave reviews and I can understand why. It indeed was a good read ( and a short one at 91 pages), but is not extra ordinary.

Silk ( 1996)

Alessandro Baricco ( translated from Italian by Guido Waldman 1997)

Vintage International

94 Pages

Rs 234
More : Wiki

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