Friday, May 29, 2009

Silk by Alessandro Baricco

In 1861, Herve Joncour has to leave his doting wife and his comfortable home in the small French town of Lavilledieu and travel across Siberia as far as Japan, in order to obtain uncontaminated silkworm eggs for breeding. There he meets a local baron's concubine and falls in love.

Alessandro Baricco’s Silk is a small story set in 1861’s France and Japan. With the silk industry developing rapidly, Hervé Joncourt is sent to Japan in search of silkworms for breeding. Japan is by that time closed to the world and the success of his enterprise is not guaranteed. But on his first voyage, Joncourt meets a local rich man, Hara Kei and a woman who is apparently his mistress, a woman with the face of a girl and who does not have oriental shaped eyes.

Joncourt and the woman will start a strange relationship where they don’t speak and hardly touch but that will lead Joncourt to travel three more times to Japan just to see her again. Baricco’s writing is lyrical and poetic as he describes the gazes exchanged by the star crossed lovers. There’s such longing in those descriptions and it is so well written that it is not difficult to imagine them.

While they are destined never to be as the woman belongs to Hara Kei and Joncourt is married to Hélène, his obsession with the woman will rule a big part of his life. Even if he is apparently happy with Hélène and she always receives him warmly when he arrives. But the power of love and desire will not affect only him as it will be apparent in the end.

There’s not much information about the other characters besides Joncourt, not even about the woman. But I found the information about the silk trade, silkworms and the Japanese culture very interesting. I wondered how Barricco could insert so many things in such a short story and one that is apparently much more dedicated to love, desire, lust and longing.
I am now very curious about the movie and to see if they did capture the dreamlike quality of the book.
Grade: 4/5


  1. I will have to get to this one sometime. I just read "An Iliad" by him and I really liked it.


  2. This book is so beautifully written! I truly enjoyed reading Silk.
    The movie is not bad but it completely lacks the magic that makes the book so especial. Oh and it has Keira Knightley as Hélène…

  3. Lezlie
    It's my first book by the author. I'll have to investigate The Iliad, thanks for mentioning it.

    LOL I bet KK ruined it for you. ;-)

  4. I didn't even realize that there was a movie! I'll have to investigate it. I found most of this book fascinating but didn't find it to be the absolutely amazing story the back cover promised me. I guess I should never trust that back cover.

  5. Hi Meghan,
    Here's the movie

  6. this sounds very good, I need to add it to my TBR.
    I enjoyed reading about Japanese culture when I read Memoirs of a Geisha.

  7. I really enjoyed this one too. I would like to read more by Baricco sometime!