14 Dec Baricco’s “Silk”
Birth, engine, emblematic representation of feelings and movements. This is “Silk” for Turin-born Italian writer Alessandro Baricco.
Set in the second half of the 19th century, “Silk” narrates the story of young French cocoon trader Hervé Joncour; due to the pandemics which hit European cocoon centers at that time, he sees himself forced to travel to Africa first and Japan later on as to buy precious healthy silkworms’ eggs.
Each trip Hervé does is a mission on behalf of silkworms’ breeder of Lavilledieu – the little village where Hervé lives with his wife Hélène –, a village which economy mainly relies on silk processing. Hervé’s mentor, Baldabiou, directed him towards far-off Japan since, despite the complete isolation this Country was living in since the last 200 years, it was said it was producing the best silk worldwide.
Hervé leaves France, faces the long trip to reach Japan and meets the mysterious Hara Kei, with whom he establishes a special relationship; this relationship is what permits him to return in that Country many times throughout the years as to buy new silkworms’ eggs. During these visits, Hervé also meets a mysterious girl with a Western appearance, especially the eyes; she then becomes the focus and origin of Hervé’s drives, but he will never be able to figure out which is her secret.
Baricco’s silk is not just a fiber, an aim, but it permeates the whole story, it establishes a pace, suggests feelings, visions, images.
Each one of Hervé’s trips towards Japan has the same methodical rhythm of a loom weaving silk; it is not bothered by wars or conflicts, always looking for new cocoons as to maintain his hometown’s economy alive. At the same time, each of these travels constitutes, for the young French man, a sort of “research of the self”, pushed by some kind of feeling, a pain, a strong gloom he is unable to explain. His feelings are light indeed and the way Baricco represents them in the book reminds the reader of the lightness of silk, together with its strength, endurance and perseverance.
Hervé’s indulgence towards eroticism and passion are represented as delicate and sensual, just like a body showing itself with “no more silk” on it. The same young woman with Western-looking eyes seems have an extremely impalpable texture, just like silk: real and soft or just a product of imagination? We will never know.
The story of “Silk” is composed by words which seems like embroideries sometimes, so light they slip away like silk does among our fingers. Nothing remains then but to read this book and be absorbed by the “inexplicable performance” of Hervé Joncour’s life, where silk, its preciousness, lightness and sensuality become the focal point of stories and emotions.