Going the distance

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Best-selling author Alessandro Baricco says when he wrote his first novel in 1991 at the age of 33, he never thought writing would bring him this far this time, to Vietnam.

"The most difficult but rewarding thing for me is to have my books read and welcomed by readers outside Italy," Baricco said at a gathering of readers and the press in Hanoi earlier this week.

"There are very few Vietnamese titles that have been translated and published in Italy. We know very little about Vietnamese culture and literature in Italy even though I know there're publishers and readers who are more than willing to change that."

The Italian author came here as part of a series of events held this year to introduce and bring well-known Italian writers, poets and journalists to Vietnam, according to the Italian embassy.

Baricco, often praised for his mastery in storytelling, has been popularized here with the translation of his world bestseller "Silk" (1997) and "Ocean Sea" (1993), which were both published by Nha Nam Publishing and Communication Company in 2007 and 2009. Other acclaimed titles include "Without Blood", "City and An Iliad" that have yet to be translated into Vietnamese.

In "Silk," Baricco writes about a French silkworm merchant in the 19th century traveling to Japan, falling for the charms of a beautiful concubine and getting caught in a labyrinth of unreachable desires.

"Ocean Sea" captures the story of five characters who convene in an isolated inn overlooking the sea, where each struggles with his or her own malady psychological and erotic pains.

Readers have been captivated by the Far East mysticism in "Silk," which was set in Japan in the 19th century, and the precise style of its prose, using short sentences. "Ocean Sea," on the other hand, charms with its use of imagery and lyrical language.

"In "˜Silk,' I was writing about a different world," Baricco said. "For many Europeans at the time, Japan was like the end of the world. The character's journey to that end of the world is like his journey of betrayal."

Though the international bestseller "Silk" was popular enough to be made into a movie, and though Baricco has won numerous prestigious literature prizes in both Italy and France, the author says he still prefers satisfying readers over critics.

"I think there are probably 10 to 12 writers in the world who I know that can do both," he said. "I like readers not because of money. When you write, you don't think much about that. I choose readers because I feel more comfortable with them."

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