Sunday, August 9, 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.

Kailana's Review:
What led you to pick up this book? A combination of a lot of things. What led me to actually reading it, though, was Ana's review. I like the cover of the one she read way more than mine, so I left it up there.

What did you like most about the book? I liked this book because it was different. I am not sure if I have ever read a book about the silk industry before, so it was a refreshing change. Even the geography is something that I have only touched on over the years. I read a lot about England, but I am not sure I have read all that much on France. Japan is a largely unexplored area, too, so it was nice to stretch my borders a bit. Then, I liked the story. It was a poetic story, which is actually not something I am normally drawn to, but I actually liked this book. It probably still didn't make me like poetry more than prose, but it did get me out of my comfort zone in a few ways.

What did you like least? I think I actually wouldn't have minded a longer book. For a short book, we learn a lot, but I think I will have to read something else along the same lines soon to fill in the gaps a bit.

Have you read any other books by this author? What did you think of those books? This is my first.

What did you think of the main character? Hervé Joncourt was actually an interesting character. He just seemed like a pretty average guy in the beginning, and you would think he wouldn't develop a lot in such few pages, but he did! I was actually rather surprised by the ways in which he grew. (For those that don't know, I very rarely read reviews or back covers of books. I just read enough to see if it is going interest me and then I like to have the rest be a surprise.) I felt for him, which, to me, shows the mark of a great book. If you can feel something for a character in under 100 pages, you know you have read the work of a great writer.

What about the ending? The ending worked. I have no complaints with it.

Overall, I thought the information on the silk industry was the best part of the book, but I liked everything overall. A recommended read! Ana gave it a 4/5. I normally do not give number ratings to my books, but if I did for this one, I would agree with Ana and give it the same rating.

Ana's Review:

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 remember reading this book and loving it too! I thought it was very poetic, but I agree I would have loved it to be longer.

  2. I wish that this cover had been kept rather than the one that Amazon shows - which smacks, IMHO, of tawdriness and cheap romance novel.

    PS: I am so glad to have found your blog. WoW - it's one of the best organized blogs I have ever seen!

  3. Hey Marg, I just got your message...will be emailing you in just a second. ;o)