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4.3 out of 5 stars53
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 5 March 2006
After medieval attitudes to outsiders and two large fantasy tomes, my most recent read was something of a change of pace: Silk, by Alessandro Baricco - a brief, moving, utterly beautiful fairytale of longing and loss, set predominantly in mid-19th-century France and Japan (& which, I hear, is to be made into a film, with Keira Knightley).
The story centres on Herve Joncour, a young French silk breeder. When silk production in his home town is threatened by disease, he travels to Japan in order to smuggle out uninfected silkworms. There, he finds himself captivated by the concubine of his local contact. Despite the danger, as Japan erupts in civil war, and despite his marriage to the loving but childless Helene, Herve finds excuses to return, repeatedly. Lacking a common language, never exchanging a mutually-intelligible word, and venturing little beyond stolen glances, Herve and the concubine fall in love.
It is told, with an elegant simplicity (one of the review quotes on the back compares the language to that of haiku, and I concur), in the rhythms and logic of fairytale. Lines and passages recur, becoming motifs, like the stylised repetitions of Herve's journeys to and from Japan, which punctuate the two poles of his life, his encounters with the concubine and his repeated reunitings with Helene. In a such a stripped-down narrative, the flashes of imagery - in particular, colours - are especially striking and resonant as evocations of mood and theme. The characters, likewise, are made archetypes, their longings and lusts universalised, larger-than-life.
And the conclusion, of course, is desperately poignant - bringing home, finally, how longings for things that will never be can obscure the things that are.
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on 31 December 2005
Barrico’s ‘Silk’ is the story of Herve, a young man working in the silk industry in Europe. Every year he must return to the orient to replenish the supply of silkworms because they cannot be bred in Europe. He develops an overpowering desire for his Japanese supplier’s daughter, despite only glimpsing her briefly. Back in Europe, Herve fantasises about her constantly, and is filled with longing for this girl who he has never really met. Each year is spent looking forward to his next trip to the east. Eventually he receives a letter in which the girl tells him of her desire for him, only to be shocked when he finally understands its source.
‘Silk’ is an achingly beautiful. It is sensual and erotic without being at all pornographic (except, perhaps, for the letter that eventually arrives). Herve’s love for this mysterious oriental girl is brilliantly contrasted with the loving familiarity provided by his wife in France. It is an examination of passion and the foolishness which accompanies it, and it is told in such plain language and simple style that it is instantly accessible to anyone who has every desired the unknown and mysterious.
‘Silk’ is only a small novella, but it completely blew me away. It is succinct, beautiful, familiar and powerful. Its sensuousness is overwhelming, and the denouement startling. One of the best novellas I have ever read.
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on 13 August 2005
A rare and wonderful find.Only 104pages long and easily read in one sitting.The prose is haunting and delicately erotic and flows from page to page. A perfect pick up book a truly bewitching read-Buy it or request it from your local library you will not be disapointed!! I enjoyed it so much I will now look for more titles by this author-A LITERARY GEM!!!!
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on 2 August 2011
Like many books that are turned into movies, I feel compelled to read the book first. I read this book in a matter of hours - of course the size of the book lends to that but also the way the writing flows sucks you into the story. Set in 1861, Alessandra Baricco takes you the Orient and introduces intriguing characters and plots. Baricco also fills his book with strong emotional imagery that comes across as poetry while at the same time using simple and direct words without embellishment.

At first I didn't understand why Joncour became so obsessed with a woman, a concubine, he never even spoke to. Then I learned that "obsession" was not the right word to use to describe his overwhelming feelings about this woman. This book leaves you with a sense sense that Joncour felt he was never able to live to his fullest potential. Even though he is able to find a calm peace with his wife, Helene, and the life they create at home, his world is soon rocked when he receives a letter full of Japanese symbols that he believes is from this 'soul mate'.

Unfortunately, there are really no words that can describe the way this books left me feeling. You just have to read the book and find out how it ends......
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VINE VOICEon 22 September 2004
Only 100 pages long a mere haiku of a book but intensely poetic and emotionally charged and very re-readable. In translation from the Italian I personally will never know what it has lost if anything but a wonderful, peaceful, wistful thoughtful read.
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on 31 July 1999
I have given this book to many people - friends, colleagues, brothers, lovers. They either love it or hate it. Some consider it pretentious, others think that it is like a lengthy haiku. Although the chapters are short in length and terse in style, the imagery each invokes is powerful - see for example chapter 32. It is written in a bleakly beautiful style, which perhaps not surprising given that Baricco has written for television, as the book is a series of discrete, different, compelling and intense images. Although the plot seems simple, it has an unexpected but serene conclusion. For those who have yet to read the book, it is difficult to suggest a comparison which might provide potential readers with an indication of what to expect. Probably the best I can come up with is another of my favourite italian authors Primo Levi, and his book the Periodic Table - which has short chapters with a linking theme. Both are admirable books - moreover, if the test of a good book is that you re-read it, both pass this test with consummate ease
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on 17 March 2001
A beautiful short book that almost reads like poetry. A sensual journey with a touch of melancholy. I read this in one evening but was thinking about it for days after.
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on 7 January 2008
This is a delightful haunting book redolent of Calvino's invisible cities,

but the second love letter is crude and jars in the otherwise parred down writing
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on 19 October 1998
This short and apparently flimsy book creates a wholly believable world. Set in the mid 1800's it tells the story of a man from France who buys and sells silkworm eggs. After an outbreak of silkworm disease, he travels to the still closed country of Japan, where he falls in love with someone he shouldn't... The book makes extensive use of haiku imagery and captures brilliantly the feel of being trapped in a circumstance beyond your control. Be amazed.
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on 30 April 2000
This is one of the finest books I have read, utterly captivating and filled with tensions that verge on despair and hope, erotic love and and base hatred, joy and sadness. And as other reviewers here have said it is so rich taht each time you go back there is more to it and in that it captures the spirit of haiku.
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