Baricco, Alessandro 1958–
Baricco, Alessandro 1958–
PERSONAL: Born 1958, in Turin, Italy.
ADDRESSES: Home—Italy. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Knopf, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: La Stampa, Turin, Italy, cultural correspondent; La Repubblica, Italy, music critic; Holden School of Writing, Turin, founder. Producer of L'amore X un dardo (title means "Love Is a Dart") for Italian public television channel RAI3, 1993, and Pickwick, del leggere e dello scrivere (title means "Pickwick: Of Reading and Writing").
AWARDS, HONORS: Prix Midicis, France, for Castelli di rabbia; Selezione Campiello Prize, Italy, for Castelli di rabbia; Viareggio Prize, for Ocean Sea; Palazzo del Bosco Prize, for Ocean Sea.
Castelli di rabbia, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1991.
Oceano Mare, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1993, translated by Alastair McEwan as Ocean Sea, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
Seta, 1996, translated by Guido Waldman as Silk, Harvill (London, England), 1997.
City, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1999 translated by Amy Goldstein as City: A Novel, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
Senza Sangue, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 2002, translated by Ann Goldstein as Without Blood, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
Novecento (stage monologue), Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1994.
Punteggiartura, Scuola Holden (Turin, Italy), 2001.
Next: Piccolo Libro sulla Globalizzazione e sul mondo che verrà (essays), Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 2002.
(With Lucia Moisio) Partita spagnola (drama), D. Audino (Rome, Italy), 2003.
La Fenice: Splendidezza di Ornamenti e Dorature (nonfiction), De Luca (Rome, Italy), 2004.
An Iliad (drama), translated by Ann Goldstein, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.
ADAPTATIONS: Baricco's stage monologue Novecento was adapted as the film Laleggenda del pianista sull'Oceano (title means "The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean"), renamed The Legend of 1900 for international release, and released by Fine Line Features, 1999; the novel Silk served as the basis for a forthcoming opera by André Previn and a film to be produced by Miramax.
SIDELIGHTS: Italian novelist Alessandro Baricco gained considerable critical attention for his book Silk. The story begins in 1861 and follows Herve Joncour, a young French silkworm merchant who travels to Japan in search of uncontaminated eggs after an epidemic affects the usual supplies from Africa and the Middle East. The Japanese will sell their silk, but there is a ban on the export of Japanese silkworm eggs, and Joncour is in danger of being prosecuted if discovered. Joncour is married to, and loves, Helene; however, during his first trip he encounters a young concubine with whom he becomes obsessed, but who is the mistress of Japanese trader Hara Kei. "Although the two have virtually no contact beyond glances, and speak no common language, the passion that springs from this encounter provides a further elegiac air for the narrative," wrote Caroline Moorehead in the Times Literary Supplement. Joncour returns several times for the precious eggs, which he carefully wraps and packs in crates, always arriving back in his home of Lavilledieu during the Easter season in time for high mass. Each four-month journey takes him through Europe and Russia as he travels to Japan. London Independent contributor, Lilian Pizzichini, asserted that the story "has absence at its core," not only because the woman Joncour desires is off-limits, but also because it is "about a man who crosses continents and notices nothing."
Joncour makes a total of four trips to Japan and finally consummates his love with the concubine. His last trip is a failure when the eggs hatch before he reaches France. While home, he receives letters in Japanese which he believes to be from his lover; he has them translated by a Japanese woman in a neighboring village. "These letters and a surprising ending to this intriguing tale confirm Mr. Baricco's gift as a storyteller," wrote an Economist contributor. In World Literature Today, Luigi Monga called Baricco's style "deliberately simple, almost awkward, and at times dull." Monga concluded that the narrative is "a metaphor for human life" that leaves us "guessing. Life as what? As a voyage? As a dream?" Baricco's story "weaves a fine, tight fabric of recurrent phrases and motifs, a novel as delicate and strong as its subject," commented a contributor to Publishers Weekly.
Baricco followed Silk with City: A Novel, his first novel set in contemporary times. Like many of Baricco's books, City has a very unique, individual, experimental style that is both lyrical and impressionistic. This novel is a complicated experimental satire about the United States and the very nature of storytelling. Baricco has his two main characters, a thirteen-year-old mathematical genius named Gould and Shatzy Shell, Gould's thirty-something caregiver and surrogate mother, spend most of their time fixated on complex fantasy stories they have been working on for years. Gould's tale focuses on a Horatio Algertype boxer, while Shell has devised a number of vignettes set in the Wild West intended for a film. Both characters are looking for connection and comfort from the cold world as they live primarily in their imaginations. Paul Haacke noted in the Review of Contemporary Fiction that "they give us a hilarious impression of 'metropolitan' America: center of precociousness and immaturity, rich in boredom, desire, and possiblity."
Senza Sangue, which was translated into English as Without Blood, is a brief, poetic novel of only about one hundred pages. Touching on the theme of the endless nature of revenge by the use of a circular structure, the narrative is driven by the pointless murder of a family—a doctor who committed war-time atrocities, Manuel Roca, and his son—by a group of assassins after the end of a brutal armed conflict. Only Roca's daughter, Nina, survives, because one of the men who commits the crime, Tito, finds her hiding and chooses not to kill her. In the second half of Without Blood, Tito and Nina have an encounter about a half century later. They discuss what happened fifty years earlier and the greater meaning of war. Praising Baricco's elegant construction of character and the meditative quality of the book, Brian Budzynski remarked in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, "Baricco is a writer of great intuition, able to transform the simplest language, which perhaps at first reading is plain, into a kind of poetry of experience."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Economist, May 18, 1996, review of Seta, pp. S16-18.
Independent (London, England), May 17, 1998, Lilian Pizzichini, review of Silk.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2004, review of Without Blood, p. 235.
Publishers Weekly, September 1, 1997, review of Silk, p. 96.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 2002, Paul Haacke, review of City, p. 164; summer, 2004, Brian Budzynski, review of Without Blood, p. 147.
Times Literary Supplement, April 18, 1997, Caroline Moorehead, review of Silk, p. 20.
World Literature Today, spring, 1997, Luigi Monga, review of Seta, p. 368.