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Alessandro Baricco: Senza sangue (Without Blood)

This book received a certain amount of negative criticism in Italy and it is not difficult to see why. It doesn’t have the charm of his earlier books or, to put it another way, he tried to do something different and many of his faithful readers didn’t like that. The book is divided into two parts. In the first part Manuel Roca is hiding out on a farm with his two children. We are not told who he is or where. As the names are all Spanish, we learn that it is recently after a bloody war and the only place named is Santander, we may suppose that it is set in Spain after the Spanish Civil War but there are other Santanders. It seems that Roca was a doctor and was in some way responsible for the medical experiments performed on prisoners. At the beginning of the story, the brother of one of these prisoners arrives with three gunmen. Roca and his son are killed and the daughter – Nina – is assumed to be dead but somehow survives the fire when the farm is burnt down.

Cut to many years later. A woman – obviously Nina – meets up with a man who, if we hadn’t already guessed, turns out to be the sole surviving killer (he was twenty at the time and known only as Tito). They talk and fill in some of the details of what had happened to them and to the others, though it is not quite clear what role Nina had in the deaths of the others. Indeed, it soon becomes clear that she does not want to kill Tito. Indeed, she offers to go to bed with him and does. And that is more or less the story. Baricco’s telling is indeed different from his other works but he still tells a good story and the ending is certainly unexpected.

Publishing history

First published 2002 by Rizzoli, Milan
First published in English 2004 by Knopf
Translated by Ann Goldstein