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Without Blood by Alessandro Baricco

Read in December 2016

3 of 5 stars

Alessandros Baricco's very brief novel is divided into two parts. The first depicts events in an unnamed country caught up in violent conflict. Three men lay siege to a farmhouse, finally killing the owner, Manuel Roca, after a bloody firefight, along with his young son. One of the men discovers a trap door in the floor of the house, where Roca has stashed his daughter Nina. He opens the door and he and the girl exchange glances. The girl turns away and without a word he closes the door and leaves, not giving the girl up to his murderous companions. In the second part a woman of late middle age encounters an elderly man selling newspapers at a kiosk in an unnamed city. She convinces him to come with her, first to a cafe where they share a bottle of wine, and then to a hotel room where they sleep together. The woman is Nina and the man, whose name is Tito, is the last survivor of the team who killed her father some fifty years earlier. Their conversation--which begins at the kiosk, continues over wine, and ends in the hotel room--covers all manner of topics related to murder and killing and revenge and war. But the main question that Nina has for this man who helped to obliterate her family is Why? Without Blood is a strange, dreamlike little book. At 97 pages, it is too short for us to form any kind of bond with the characters (though we feel sympathy for Tito, who fears for his life when Nina confronts him, and then resigns himself to whatever fate awaits) but nonetheless leaves us thinking about war and its victims, and the capricious nature of mercy. In the end, Baricco succeeds in blurring the line between perpetrator and victim and manages to speak volumes about forgiveness.