Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Seta (Silk): A Short, Easy Italian Novel

Seta (2008, 108 pages) is a quick, easy read: ideal for someone's first attempt to read an Italian novel.

Hervé Joncour, a young man in 19th century France, tries to save his town's silk industry by smuggling silkworm eggs out of Japan. Although he's happily married to Hélèn, he becomes obsessed with a girl he meets in Japan. But Japan, newly opened to the world, is sliding into civil war.

The Worm Turns

The silkworm spins a cocoon from a single, kilometer-long thread. From such threads hangs the prosperity of the little town of Lavilledieu, which specializes in silk making. When a silkworm blight starts killing European silk worms, the citizens have to send someone to find replacements. Every year, Hervé Joncour has to travel across the world to buy millions of eggs and get them back to France before they hatch. Each trip takes months, while the world around him keeps changing.

And even when he's back in France, he can't stop thinking about a mysterious girl he met in Japan. One who makes him eager for each return visit, even as they grow more and more dangerous.

You can too!

This is an excellent first novel for someone ready to make the leap to reading Italian. Other than a limited amount of silkworm terminology, Seta doesn't demand a lot from the reader in terms of vocabulary. Like any Italian novel, the narration makes heavy use of the passato remoto, but the only forms you have to learn are the 3rd-person singular and plural. The 108 pages are divided into about 65 little chapters, many of which fit on a single Kindle screen. This gives you an incredible sense of accomplishment when you're reading it because you can knock the chapters off in rapid succession.

One chapter is very sexually explicit. Very. That may be a problem for some readers. Others, having read this warning, may be disappointed that that chapter is quite out of character with the rest of the novel and very near the end as well.

The ending may present a different problem; I noticed that some reviewers complained that it left loose ends. Seta is literature, not action-adventure (although there's a fair amount of action and adventure in it), so it's really about Hervé Joncour's own issues and contradictions, and it's over when those are resolved. In that sense, there are no loose ends. It really is one long thread.

Feel free to review my list of foreign novels I recommend reading as well as reference books I use for learning how to read foreign languages.

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