I found a copy of Alessandro Baricco's Silk on one of my sister's bookshelves the other day. It had been several years since I had last read it, so at the end of a long day, I opened it and began. I was tired and didn't figure to last long with a book I had read several times before. But the story worked its enchantment upon me once again. I read it on through to the end. As I lay there with the closed book upon my chest, I felt as if I could start it over again. It is a good story.
Silk is a mere 91 pages long, comprised of 65 chapters. The story is supported by an elegant architecture - almost zen-like in its simplicity. Some of the short chapters trace over months of time, while others, often with fewer words, explore a single moment. The effect is similar to the Chinese painters that used emptiness to charge the meaning of their landscapes. What is most beautiful is what is evoked but never described.
The story is set in the late 1800s. Herve Jouncour is a silk merchant who lives in a small town in southern France. He is married to a woman with a beautiful voice. Each year, due to various circumstances, he must travel to Japan to buy silkworm eggs. While in Japan, he meets a young woman, the mistress of the most elusive man in all of Japan, Hara Kei. Herve and the young woman do not speak to each other. But something happens between them. He leaves. The next year, he returns. Barrico weaves his threads over the same patterns, deepening the detail with each passing. By the end, you realize in the hands of an author with less control, less discipline, the story could have easily run to a thousand pages.
I was having dinner with one of my most influential teachers one night, not long before he died, and asked him what he was reading. He told me that as he had grown older, he had less desire for new stories, new books. He found himself returning to the old ones again and again, reading through the familiar traces, moving into narrative depths he had not had access to on previous readings. He rarely smiled. But I remember him smiling then, and saying, one of the gifts of age is to have a beloved book open up after many years to reveal previously unknown treasures within. He paused and added: such a gift.
In a few years, I am certain, I will read Silk again. And I am sure that it will again have some small gift to offer me, something that I have passed by on all my previous readings, something that I barely even noticed.... It is one of those kinds of books.
The Laughing Bone Store: Silk: book information, blurbs, editorial and customer reviews, lists and more of the usual Amazon razmatazz