17 December 2007

Senza Sangue ไร้เลือด

Senza Sangue is another quality novel from Alessandro Baricco. Thanks to its size, I managed to finish it all in one day despite many visits from both my students and colleagues. I even took it to the office loo and read it there when nature called -- sadly the toilet seemed an intellectual sanctuary in this case.

Like Seta (or Silk) and Novecento (or The Legend of 900), Baricco manages to convey eloquence through reticence. The novel itself is divided into two parts, one happening long before the other which acts like an aftermath. It entails how a woman needs to come to terms with her horrendous past, in which her father and her brother were mercilessly killed, presumably as an act of revenge.

It probably is not too illogical to label Senza Sangue a holocaust novel, in which a wartime experience or consequence comes back to haunt the characters. In this case, the female victim's life is turned upside down because of that cruel homicide.

Baricco's decision to divide the novel into two parts is a poignant narrative strategy, as it raises questions as to how one rewrites or revisits one's own trauma. In this novel, we see how this woman Nina struggles to come to terms with her trauma through silence and willful non-communication, strategies which function as self-defence mechanisms for her. She is portrayed as 'without blood' partly to reflect how the past experience and the trauma have dehumanised her, reducing her to a machine. Yet, through Baricco's skillful descriptive rendering, one can also feel her loneliness, her need to reach out, her longing to be human, and these fragile needs are subtly hidden.

In the first part, while Nina is the victim, Tito is the perpetrator. In the second part, there is clearly a role reversal. When Nina meets Tito once again many years later when Tito is a lottery seller, she has too many questions to ask, most of which of course do not receive proper responses from Tito. We also see Tito hurt by this kind of inquisition, as a period of many decades has rewritten that past for him, and it turns out he finds some of his actions absurd. Their dialogue and silence are a gem that is worth scrutinising. Of course, Tito is also hurt and lonely.

Towards the ending the development of their relationship has become something that I really cherish, as Baricco sweetly portrays both human weakness and strength (or its pretension) through their actions and reactions.

I think this novel is better read more than once and the more you read, the more you'll be drawn into the abyss of human emotional complexities. I surely will pick this novel up again and enjoy its subtle messages hidden under a simple disguise.

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