By Pamela Ditchoff
Liverpool, NS, Canada
I purchased this novella in 2004 and I have read it at least once a year every year since. I return to Without Blood to reward myself and to remind myself that a slim work of fiction can achieve near perfection. And if I could read Italian and not miss what may be lost in translation, my guess is that the work would be perfection.
The Review of Contemporary Fiction wrote of Without Blood: "Designed not for consumption, but for meditation. This story hangs around the neck, curls into you." This in my opinion is the most precise review of many glowing reviews.
The story takes placed in an unknown place and time where partisans of an unknown ideology are waging war. In a country farmhouse, Manuel Roca's enemies have come to kill him for past transgressions, and Manuel hides his daughter Nina in a hole beneath the floor.
As the gunfire rattles above her, shattering the windows, Nina closes her eyes:
"She flattened herself against the blanket and curled up even tighter, pulling her knees to her chest. She liked being in that position. She felt the earth, cool, under her side, protecting her—it would not betray her. And she felt her own curled-up body, folded around itself like a shell—she liked this—she was shell and animal, her own shelter, she was everything, she was everything for herself, nothing could hurt her as long as she remained in this position."
The shooting stops and the men's voices move further away. Nina's father and brother are dead. One boy, Tito, a few years older than Nina, remains inside the house where he finds the outline of a trapdoor. He lifts the door and sees Nina, points his gun at her, but cannot shoot:
"Tito felt returning to him a sensation he had felt a thousand times, finding that exact position, between the warmth of sheets or under the afternoon sun of childhood. Knees folded, hands between the legs, feet balanced. Head bent forward slightly, closing the circle. How lovely it was, he though . . .it was all so orderly. It was all so complete. Exact."
Three days later, after the house had burned to the ground, a filthy man on an old nag reaches out to Nina and lifts her into the saddle. Part I ends.
Part I deals with actions and Part II deals with consequences. Many years have passed, Tito is an old man selling lottery tickets at a kiosk where an old woman approaches him. She invites him to have a drink with her, and although her knows this is the child from the hole, he cannot resist:
"Many years ago, you saw three men kill your father, in cold blood. I'm the only one of the three who's still alive . . . You came here to find me."
Nina answers: "When I was a child my name was Nina. But everything ended that day. No one called me by that name anymore . . . Now I have many names."
Taking the path of revenge would have been as easy as it would have been totally wrong. But Baricco weaves a story with fine silk thread and the tension grows. I do not care to spoil the experience for the next reader; it is enough to say that when secrets are spilled and hearts are open, they are done so without blood.