Alessandro Baricco was born in Turin in 1958. After studying music and philosophy he worked for a time in advertising and as an opera critic for national Italian newspapers. In 1994 he had television success with the literary arts programme “Pickwick” and also published regular reports in the daily newspapers “La Repubblica” and “La Stampa”. In Turin, his home today, Baricco founded the private University of Creative Writing, “Scuola Holden”, in which numerous well-known authors and film-makers have given lectures. Baricco’s books, a number of which have been filmed, have won several prizes, including the “Prix Médicis”, the Italian literary prize “Premio Viareggio” and the „Premio Selezione Campiello”.
Baricco’s very first novel “Castelli di Rabbia” (1991) brings together many of the themes and narrative patterns that have made him an internationally successful writer. There is a suggestion of surrealism in the story of Rail, a glass-factory owner who continually sets off on journeys into the unknown and each time brings his dear wife, Jun, the same present. The setting is that of an imaginary 19th century and takes up the romantic motion of all embracing love.
Alessandro Baricco became known in German-speaking countries above all through his third book, the world bestseller “Silk” (1997), a mixture of parables on the theme of love, Far East mysticism and cleverly devised etudes based on language. In this book the author links a feature of Japanese literature, namely that which is not spoken, with the image of the ever-present return of what is the same, that “repetition of the past” which Gustave Flaubert narrates with such mastery in his book “Salammb”. Here, once again, it is the 19th century in which Baricco sets his story: Hervé Joncourt, the hero of the novel, deals in silk worms and travels in search of a rare variety of this creature. Year in, year out, his journey takes him to Japan, to the country of silk materials and the “Poetry of Longing”. There he falls for the charms of an indescribably beautiful woman who looks at him “with confusing intensity” but who at the same time remains unreachable. Torn from the monotony of his life up to that point, Joncourt becomes caught up in a labyrinth of imagination and longing. Not until his wife dies does he realise that it was only her he loved in that strangely beautiful woman.
Those meandering detours and repetitions, which Joncourt must undergo and which give the text its own rhythm, can be found in Baricco’s book “City”, published in 2000. Two outsiders, the gifted young Gould and the twenty-year-old Shatzy, conjure up their own imaginary world and so encounter all the preposterousness and presumptions of the “real” world. In numerous episodes Baricco criss-crosses times and landscapes, binding the strands of his story to motifs from comedy and advertising, along with film images and American myths. In this book Baricco has written a tribute to everyday dreams; it is a book about imagination and the power of friendship.
© international literature festival berlin