cover image Silk


Alessandro Baricco. HarperCollins Publishers, $15 (96pp) ISBN 978-1-86046-310-5

In 1861, after plague has destroyed the silkworms in the Middle East and Africa, French merchant Herve Joncour travels to Japan--a country of which little is known to the French--in search of healthier, better silk. Flouting a Japanese law against exporting silkworms, Joncour leaves his loving wife for what will be the first of many four-month journeys through Europe, Russia and Siberia to Japan, where he befriends a wealthy Japanese trader and falls in love with his beautiful young mistress. With each trip, Joncour's expectations of closer contact with the young woman escalate, as does the danger of his journey. Joncour finally receives a letter from the concubine, which he must take for translation to a Japanese woman living in a neighboring French village The letter encourages Joncour to travel to Japan one last time; what he finds there will change his life forever. Baricco, winner of the Prix Medicis and other awards for his two previous novels, uses the precise, formal language of the 19th-century realists to evoke exotic settings, vivid characters and historical details. Written in 65 spare chapters (some less than a page long, some evolving into verse), Barrico's fairy tale of East and West weaves a fine, tight fabric of recurrent phrases and motifs, a novel as delicate and strong as its subject. (Oct.) FYI: Silk, a bestseller in Italy and in the U.K., will be published in 16 languages, including Japanese.