Silk by Alessandro Baricco
Description: "In 1861 French silkworm merchant Hervé Joncour is compelled to travel to Japan, where, in the court of an enigmatic nobleman, he meets a woman. They do not touch; they do not even speak. And he cannot read the note she sends him until he has returned to his country. But in the moment he does, Joncour is possessed."
First line: "Although his father had pictured for him a brilliant career in the army, Hervé Joncour had ended up earning his crust in an unusual career which, by a singular piece of irony, was not unconnected with a charming side that bestowed on it a vaguely feminine intonation."
My thoughts: This book seems to have gotten raves all around the world. And it's quite an interesting book - it's like a haiku of a book, really. Very short, each chapter rarely longer than 3 or 4 paragraphs, if that. As they say on my favourite British real estate show "Small but perfectly formed." (I confess, as I started reading it, my reaction was "Yay! It's really short!' - I'm running out of time to finish all my reading challenges before the end of December.)
Unlike the other books I've read for Orbis Terrarum, I didn't see any hints of the author's Italian background. At first I thought this was strange, but then thought about all the historical fiction I've read that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the author's country of origin. It's just that this happens to be the first book of the challenge that didn't contain anything like that.
Overall, the book just wasn't for me. I'm not really a novella person, I like more meat to my stories. The historical bits about the silk trade were fairly interesting, but about 1/8th of the text is repeating the lengthy trail of Joncour's journey to Japan each year, with barely any change in the paragraph from one year to the next. And I found the no-touching, no-speaking love affair a bit hard to believe.
But for someone willing to be carried away on the silken path, it could be just the thing.