We read Silk, Alessandro Baricco’s third and very brief novel published in 1996 by Rizzoli. With Lands of Grass written in 1991 and Ocean Sea written in 1993, Silk concludes a sort of trilogy about dreams and for dreamers made of subtle, almost imperceptible, references that link their plots and characters.
Between France and Japan
Silk carries us away along an indefinite journey of the heart and of the soul between France and Japan, during a historical moment of great change; a period when European society was about to adapt to a new emerging economical, social and political environment toward full industrialization:
“It was 1861. Flaubert was finishing Salammbô, electric light was still a hypothesis and Abraham Lincoln, on the other side of the ocean, was fighting a war whose end he would not see.”
The consequent cultural atmosphere defines a new way of thinking that, on the one hand, affirms the power of human beings over their destiny, their faith in their capabilities in improving and reshaping their environment with the help of experimentation, knowledge and innovation and, on the other hand, it reveals its constrictions.
About dreams and dreamers
This is the setting where a story of an impossible dream takes place: that of Hervé Joncour, a young French silk merchant who while travelling in far away Japan meets the mysterious concubine of Hara Kei, one of the local barons. A splendid girl who makes him undertake daunting journeys back and forth between Europe and Asia, between reality and dream.
The historical setting emphasis
The tale of Joncour’s and the mysterious concubine’s lives assumes the form of a love story to narrate the world of dreamers in an age that was about to reshape their modern role:
“He was, besides, one of those men who like to witness their own life, considering any ambition to live it inappropriate. It should be noted that these men observe their fate the way most men are accustomed to observe a rainy day.”
It tells us a lot about the power and the value of dreams; about how, although they may lead towards dangerous paths, they are nonetheless necessary and fundamental to any individual experience. This book seems to explain their reasons to us with great sensitivity and tenderness through