|About the Book|
Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more- wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again. Wanderer, there is no road-- Only wakes upon the sea. -- Antonio MachadoThe Spanish poet taught that paths exist to be trodden, but one needs to start walking in order to make ones own road. Herve Joncour traveled new paths that would lead him to the end of the world and then back home. A 19C French silkworm merchant, Joncour had been content “to witness life rather than live it” until necessity forces him to start walking new paths after an epidemic threatens the entire stock of French silk worms. Behind him lay a road eight thousand kilometers long. In front of him, nothing. He had a sudden glimpse of what he had considered invisible. The end of the world.”Instead of following the famous Silk Road to China, he blazes a new path to Japan-- the forbidden island, absurdly isolated from the rest of the world--to find silk worm larvae. Japan is the mysterious land of elaborate and ancient rituals -- tea ceremonies- sword play- and secret silk production--that are executed with mystic precision. In like manner, Alessandro Baricco, in near liturgical ritual, repeats phrases in separate chapters as if he is imitating these mystic Japanese rituals, and his elegantly constructed short chapters resemble informal haikus.Silkworms are as fragile as love. They start as small eggs and thousands can be held in the palm of your hand. They hatch in May, “freeing” a worm that feasts on mulberry leaves and then locks itself in a cocoon for 2 weeks until it “escaped for good, leaving behind a patrimony of silk.” Every year, Jancour follows the same path to acquire the larvae and every year he returns home in time for High Mass at Easter. His life and travels become both an exotic road, an escape, and a familiar liturgy.On his first journey to Japan, Joncour is immediately attracted to the mistress of a Japanese silkworm egg trader, Hara Kei. After returning home to France, Joncour receives a letter, consisting of seven sheets covered in Japanese ideograms, reminding him of the tracks of bird feet. He forgets that to “To hold Japanese silk was to hold “nothingness” between your fingers.” The attraction to the woman becomes an obsession that carries him three more times to Japan even when there is great risk and little reward, but he is a man in whom the desires of illicit love compete with the desires of faithful love. Love is silk. Love is liturgy. Love is a path. Love is as fragile as silkworms.Hara Kei builds an aviary in his village and stocks it with exotic birds, until his mistress unlocks the aviary to set the birds free-- but the birds eventually all return—an act of great symbolism for the surprise ending of this novel. Perhaps sometimes life shows you a side of itself which leaves you with nothing more to say. Love is escape. Love is return.Joncours comes to realize a great misunderstanding. Love leads to despair and love is the path out of despair.“Insomuch as despair was an excess that had no part in him, he concentrated on what was left of his life and began once more to give it his attention, with the unshakeable tenacity of a gardener back at work the morning after the storm.To make peace with the shock of shattered dreams, Joncour performs ceremonial rituals like handling raw silk once a year, and he stares at the ripples on the lake--perhaps remembering the illusory woman in an exotic land who taught him, indirectly, to appreciate the value of the material substance of home and that which he already knows. Love creates a wake. As Machado wrote, “There is no road, just wakes upon the sea.” Sometimes the paths we trod lead us to exotic destinations and love. Sometimes the longest and most exotic roads lead us to home and love. Sometimes the road was an illusion. Sometimes we stare at ripples on the sea and remember the wakes we once created.