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08 October, 2007
Book Review: Silk by Alessandro Baricco
Read and reviewed for Armchair Interviews.
In 1861, the journey to obtain silk was a treacherous one. Due to an epidemic that infected most of the European stocks of silk worms the men who buy the eggs of the worms were forced to travel further from home to replenish their stock.
Hervé Joncour is one such man.
Hervé Joncour is a buyer and seller of silk worm eggs for the silk mills in the French city of Lavillediea. Every year his travels take him away from home to Egypt and other African ports to buy the stock of his trade. Because of the epidemic, he is forced to undertake a dangerous and desperate journey over half the known world to buy healthy eggs from Japan. It is a dangerous and desperate trip. Travel, since the Suez Canal ha not been completed, takes months to get to Japan from France. Once there, Joncour is smuggled into the country as Japan’s ports are not yet open to foreigners. The price he will pay if caught taking silk worm eggs out of Japan is his death.
There he meets a woman, the mistress of his host. They do not touch, they do not speak to each other, and he can not read the letter that she gives him. Once Joncour hears what it says, he becomes a man possessed. When in France with his wife Helené Joncour is a man changed by the Orient. While in Japan he is trying to find ways to meet his host’s mistress without raising the suspicions of the townsfolk, and their lord.
Silk is an enthralling love story. It is haunting in it’s telling of two star crossed lovers fated to meet but never to act upon their love. It is told with simplicity and a moving plot that transports its readers to France in the late nineteenth century.
This edition of Silk is a movie tie in with the upcoming release of the film adaptation of the book (September 14, 2007). It has a new translation from its original Italian by Anna Goldstein. Silk was originally published in 1996 as Seta, with its first translation to English in 1997.