Silk by Alessandro BariccoAuthor: Alessandro Baricco
Publisher: Canongate (1997)
Number of Pages: 148
How long it took me to read: 2 days
Where I got this book: a gift from a friend
ISBN: 978-0307277978

Like a Moth to a Flame

A friend’s surname is a variation on the Spanish word for silk so when she handed me this book and told me that a colleague of hers bought it for her because of her surname, I thought I detected a little love story between them. When I opened the front cover, I saw that he’d written “Silk, Seda, Soie. Enjoy.” I began reading the book to see if my theory was right…

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “He took an unassuming pleasure in his possessions, and the likely prospect of becoming truly wealthy left him completely indifferent. He was, besides, one of those men who like to witness their own life, considering any ambition to live it inappropriate.” (p.7)

4. “He turned thirty-three on September 4, 1862. His life fell like rain before his eyes, a quiet spectacle.” (p.38)

3. “ ‘Maybe it’s that life, at times, gets to you in a way that there’s really nothing more to say.’ ” (p.82)

2. “Because despair was an excess that did not belong to him, he submitted to what was left of his life, and began again to look after it, with the unyielding tenacity of a gardener at work the morning after the storm.” (p.139)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “Hara Kei went on walking, with slow steps that bore no trace of weariness. Around him was the most absolute silence, and emptiness. As if by a special rule, wherever that man went, he went in an unconditional and perfect solitude.” (p.46)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“Page one captivates me and I know why. My only fear is that my intention to read just a little tonight will be thwarted by the wonderful simplicity of the prose, urging me to stay up longer than I’d planned. I give in. It’s mainly because the protagonist is so easily diverted from the career his father wanted for him, to pursue a career a charismatic stranger decides for him. Steered onto another path, Herve’s whole life opens to the exoticism of another world. So this is why I keep reading past midnight—to gather inspiration for my own decision to open up to what life could have in store for me.”

“My theory that my friend’s colleague is in love with her has some more weight behind it. Not only is her surname the same as the title of the book but the protagonist’s wife has her first name, Helen—a parallel real-life plot to the one in the book is taking shape in my imagination…”

“Every time the main character travels to buy silkworms, the description of his journey from his village in France to the village in Japan is more or less the same. I find myself enjoying the rhythm of the words and the familiarity of the journey, as though I’m crossing the Urals with him, boarding a Dutch smuggler’s ship to the western coast of Japan. It’s what I imagine it’s like going to the end of the universe because in the 1800s Japan was still in self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world.”

“I associate the stillness and silence, described in my favourite quote, with a side of Japan that I’ve experienced in recent years. Not far from the futuristic, accelerated pace of life in cities like Tokyo, it’s possible to enter a hushed and quite mystical dimension—remnants of that pristine past perhaps. I sense that I’d like a bit of that quiet space for reflection right now—to stand apart from myself and my life and observe the scene before plunging into the next chapter.”

“There’s a twist in the tale that completely takes me by surprise and now I’m wondering how much of the story my friend Helen remembers. Her namesake in the book turns out to be quite racy. I’ll have to tread carefully when teasing out the details of her relationship with her colleague/secret admirer…”

Viveca Mellegard

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