Alessandro Baricco, Without Blood . Translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. 97 pages.

Without Blood , Alessandro Baricco’s fifth book, begins in horror. Four-year-old Nina Roca hides beneath a trap door in an old farmhouse listening as several men murder her father and brother. Before the men leave, one, Tito, opens the trap door and finds her, but does not tell his comrades, one of whom sets fire to the house. Miraculously, Nina escapes the fire, and is discovered three days later by a bedraggled man on horseback. Decades later, Nina finds Tito working at a lottery kiosk in the Galeria Florencia. She invites him to a cafe, where she tells her life story and he recounts how the other murderers died in strange circumstances, perhaps or perhaps not the victim of Nina’s revenge. She sees that her life has been driven by “the single desire to return to the hell that created us,” believing that “the one who saved us once can do it forever.” That “long hell” becomes “suddenly merciful. And without blood.” Lyrical and haunting, Without Blood is told in a clean, crisp prose that one reviewer compared to haiku. It reaches toward allegory, and in its few crystalline pages probes questions of memory, loss, fate, revenge, and forgiveness.

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