He buys eggs from Hara Kei, a French-speaking nobleman. Joncour falls in love with his mistress. Hara Kei conducts the silkworm egg transaction via an associate and does not say goodbye when Joncour leaves. When it is time for Joncour to make a fourth trip to Japan, war has broken out. Hara Kei denies Joncour welcome but Joncour refuses to leave.

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Shelves: literary I never imagined I would like a book where the main character makes a living by buying silkworms. But I did. In fact, I not only liked it, I loved it. SILK is easily one of the top ten books I have read in the past eighteen months or so. It has a sparse writing style, and passages are repeated almost verbatim in no less than three different spots. The characters are there, fully realized, but at the same time, each character is a mystery or a ghost without definite shape.

The prose is smooth, I never imagined I would like a book where the main character makes a living by buying silkworms. The prose is smooth, dreamlike. SILK is an easy story to relate to: it is about the idea of love.

Herve Joncour is a silkworm buyer who, at first, travels across Europe, past the Mediterranean, into Syria and Egypt to buy the precious silkworm eggs. However, an epidemic hits the silkworms of Europe, and before long, the epidemic spreads to the far reaches of Egypt. Worried that this enterprise is in danger, a man named Baldabiou convinces Herve that to ensure a profit Herve needs to go a land that is known for only being at the end of the world: Japan.

But Japan is closed to outsiders. In fact, it is closed off to anyone who leaves the island. Now, it would have been easy for the author, Alessandro Baricco, to bombard the reader with fascinating details about the politics of Japan, and the history of opening the island to outsiders. I would have really liked that. But Baricco had other ideas. He knew that if he heaped detail upon detail, during this part, the mystery and intrigue of the story would become lost.

Instead, Baricco uses only the least bit of detail to convey such a tumultuous time of Japanese and world history. And it is done in such a beautiful and remarkable way that this reader never felt as if important aspects of the novel were only glazed over.

It is while in Japan that Herve has a realization of love. I wish I could tell you about the woman and the impact she had upon Herve, but that would ruin the story for you. Herve replays this journey four times. Three of them are peaceful. On the fourth time, Japan is in the midst of a civil war.

When Herve returns this last time, charred villages and a way of life that he remembers are black phantoms upon the landscape. Not to mention the woman that Herve loves? Okay, I know the past two paragraphs have been cryptic, I apologize. I hate when other reviewers do that, but it seems secrecy is the only way I can explain how powerful this story is.

At only a pages, this is an easy read. But when you have finished the story, I am willing to bet it will be a long time before the images and situations leave your mind.


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