Posts Tagged ‘Alessandro Baricco’

‘Silk’ by Alessandro Baricco – Arduous Trips from France to Japan to Buy Silkworms

 

Silk’ by Alessandro Baricco (1996) – 91 pages              Translated from the Italian by Guido Waldman

 

Silk is a unique cloth in that it is produced by worms, silkworms, to form their cocoons. The shimmering appearance of silk is due to the triangular prism-like structure of the silk fiber, which allows silk cloth to refract incoming light at different angles, thus producing different colors.

The novella ‘Silk’ takes place in the early 1860s during a time when a disease in France is making their silkworm eggs unusable. This disease is likely to put the silk enterprise of French entrepreneur Hervie Joncour out of business. The French government has even brought in young biologist Louis Pasteur to study the disease and perhaps find a solution.

Meanwhile Joncour has heard about the thriving silk industry in Japan and how their silkworms are not susceptible to this disease. Joncour decides to make the arduous many month trip from France to Japan of 8,000 kilometers and which requires riding two thousand kilometers of Russian steppe on horseback.

In Japan, he negotiates the purchase of a large number of silkworms to bring back to France with a local Japanese baron, Hara Kei. Joncour becomes infatuated with Hara Kei’s concubine, a girl whose “eyes did not have an oriental slant and her face was the face of a young girl”.

After Joncour gets back to France, the Japan silkworms do not get the disease and they keep Joncour’s business profitable. Joncour makes a couple more arduous trips to Japan, each time becoming more infatuated with the concubine girl. Meanwhile Joncour’s wife stays at home in France.

I have something important to tell you monsieur. We’re all disgusting. We’re all marvelous, and we’re all disgusting.”

I won’t go any further into the story. Let’s just say that ‘Silk’ is an elegant and exotic strange little novella. The story is a romance and is far from realistic, but it doesn’t really matter. Even though it is very short, this novella is not a quick read because the story has many natural stopping points when the reader should just stop and not try to force it.

As I said before, the story takes place in the early 1860s. The Suez Canal, which opened in 1869, reduced Europeans trips to Japan to only 20 days.

 

Grade:    B

 

 

‘The Young Bride’ by Alessandro Baricco

 

‘The Young Bride’ by Alessandro Baricco   (2015) – 174 pages        Translated by Ann Goldstein

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‘The Young Bride’ is the elegant story of an eccentric aristocratic Italian family who live all together in a mansion except for the son who is away to England on family business.  The son’s eighteen year-old fiancé who now lives in Argentina shows up at the mansion one day and stays there awaiting the son’s return.  The family members are never given names; instead they are referred to as the Father, The Mother, the Daughter, the Son, as well as the Young Bride.  Only the old man servant who runs the household has a name; he is Modesto.

For me the best part of the novel is the first third when this strange family is grandiosely described in Baricco’s rich style.   Several pages are devoted to the family’s great daily morning awakening, but I will quote only a short sample to give you a feel for Baricco’s style:

“The table for breakfasts – a term no one ever thought of using in the singular, for only a plural can conjure the richness, the abundance, and the unreasonable duration – is indeed a well-laid sea.  A pagan sense of thanksgiving is evident – the escape from the catastrophe of sleep.”

Each morning three-hour breakfasts are served as thanksgiving for the family having survived the previous night.

“For a hundred and thirteen years, it should be said, all of us have died at night, in our family. That explains everything.” 

‘The Young Bride’ is one of those novels which started out spectacularly strong for me, but wound up slowly dissipating my enthusiasm.   For me the least effective and least comprehensible parts of the book are where Baricco experiments with changing the narration from third person to first person.  These sections are near impossible to follow.  The novel’s conceit is that the Young Bride is relating the story many years later.  However at the beginning of the novel, the young bride is not in the house, so the narration necessarily becomes third person.  Later the narration goes back to first person occasionally which jars and is confusing.

‘The Young Bride’ is just one long story not divided into chapters.  If the narration changes had occurred at the chapter level, I probably could have followed them better.

The translator of ‘The Young Bride’ is Ann Goldstein, now justly famous for her Elena Ferrante translations.  It is difficult to imagine two writers more different than Elena Ferrante and Alessandro Baricco.  Ferrante is down to earth while Baricco writes in an over-the-top grand experimental style.

 

Grade:   B- 

 

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