It’s always with some trepidation that I start a Novella a Day in May project. Last year I couldn’t face it at all (pandemic testing my resilience, work pressure, cat deaths taking a toll – even so I know I’ve been very lucky). But I seem to be able to read more now, so fingers crossed…
Also, I never run NADIM as an event because I never thought anyone else would want to undertake such a task, but I’m delighted that this year I will be joined by Simon at Stuck in a Book! So do join us for lots of novella love 😊
Away we go!
Without Blood – Alessandro Baricco (2002, trans. Ann Goldstein 2004) 87 pages
Without Blood is a short, sharp shock. It opens with a brutal, bloody and deadly attack on Nina’s family when she is a small child.
Men arrive at the remote farmhouse where she lives with her father and brother. Her father helps her to hide in the cellar, but she hears them accuse him of the torture of prisoners during the (unnamed) war.
“Nina closed her eyes. She flattened herself against the blanket, and curled up even tighter, pulling her knees to her chest. She liked to be 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.”
Her brother fires a gun at the men and is killed. One of the soldiers, a young man called Tito, sees Nina under the trapdoor and keeps quiet. Nina is taken in by a local man who then bets her away at cards when she is a teenager. Adult Nina devotes herself to revenging the death of her family.
Barrico raises a lot of big questions in this novella but wisely doesn’t attempt to find answers. The nature and purpose of war; who is guilty and to what extent; the brutalisation of humans; the justification and consequences of violence; revenge versus redemption…
“There were a lot of things we had to destroy in order to build what we wanted, there was no other way, we had to be able to suffer and to inflict suffering – whoever could endure more pain would win, you cannot dream of a better world and think it will be delivered just because you ask for it.”
When Nina finds Tito fifty-two years later, it is not easy to predict what will happen. They have both been irrevocably changed by the events of that night, events which have overshadowed the rest of their lives and bound them together throughout their separation.
“The man thought the way she spoke was strange. As if it was a gesture she wasn’t used to.”
It is a quick read in length but Without Blood invites longer consideration.