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by Alessandro Baricco

I slipped out of the office at lunch and picked up "Silk" at the bookstore downstairs, and I read it in less than two hours—including a 30-minute telephone break with my dad and ample time for daydreaming. "Silk" was smooth sailing, and that was exactly the point. It's an erotic love story wrought in whispers and fragments. Where other writers unearth the muck of their characters' consciousnesses, Baricco traces silhouettes. A French silk merchant travels to Japan to buy silkworm eggs and meets a striking young woman. Around this premise Baricco builds a story about obsessive long-distance desire, individual agency, and the roots of industrial globalization. He also experiments with form, treating language as a system for carrying meaning across great distances, like two continents or two hearts. Even though I breezed through it, by the end I felt deflated. Was the prose flat, or the symbols a little prickly? The first time I spotted "Silk," in a bookstore in Rome in 2002, I walked right past. In retrospect I made a mistake, not because "Silk" is an amazing book in English, but because it might have been, in Italian. Either way, it's a pleasant way to spend lunch. Who it's for: people curious about the economic and scientific landscape of the early 19th century, anyone who has loved selflessly or from afar, fans of historical fiction, anyone with an hour to spare and a drop of curiosity about contemporary Italian fiction.

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