Many years back, in school, I read a story about a tourist who goes to a new country and gets a tattoo from a renowned artist. When the artist dies, the two countries fight for the rights to the tattoo on the back and the tourist is detained. A diplomatic crisis ensues. Finally, a fanatic throws acid on the back of the tourist.

I am looking for more work from the author as this story highlights many aspects of our society.

It is a recollection from my memory and might be inaccurate. Could somebody point me to the story, author, etc.?

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    Any idea where in the world this story was set, or what the two countries might have been? When did you read it? Was the book new then, or much older? Was it a novel, a short story, part of a series? Any little detail will help to narrow the search. – Rand al'Thor Sep 18 '20 at 10:54
  • Was this a short story or a novel? – Spagirl Sep 18 '20 at 11:03
  • @Randal'Thor I am pretty sure it was set in Europe. I read it more than 20 years back in the school textbook in India-- so I guess it must be a short story --abridged version from another book. Do not remember the year. I am afraid this does not help much. The books have all changed and I could not trace back, – kosmos Sep 18 '20 at 18:31

A good samaritan on Reddit shared with me a link to the story by none other than HH Munro (Saki). It is a short story titled "The Background".

Signor Pincini was, perhaps, the most brilliant master of tattoo craft that Italy had ever known, but his circumstances were decidedly impoverished, and for the sum of six hundred francs he gladly undertook to cover his client's back, from the collar-bone down to the waist-line, with a glowing representation of the Fall of Icarus. [...]

But he bore on his back the burden of the dead man's genius. On presenting himself one day in the steaming corridor of a vapour bath, he was at once hustled back into his clothes by the proprietor, who was a North Italian, and who emphatically refused to allow the celebrated Fall of Icarus to be publicly on view without the permission of the municipality of Bergamo. Public interest and official vigilance increased as the matter became more widely known, and Deplis was unable to take a simple dip in the sea or river on the hottest afternoon unless clothed up to the collar-bone in a substantial bathing garment. Later on the authorities of Bergamo conceived the idea that salt water might be injurious to the masterpiece, and a perpetual injunction was obtained which debarred the muchly harassed commercial traveller from sea bathing under any circumstances. Altogether, he was fervently thankful when his firm of employers found him a new range of activities in the neighbourhood of Bordeaux. His thankfulness, however, ceased abruptly at the Franco-Italian frontier. An imposing array of official force barred his departure, and he was sternly reminded of the stringent law which forbids the exportation of Italian works of art.

[...] And then one day, at an anarchist congress at Genoa, a fellow-worker, in the heat of debate, broke a phial full of corrosive liquid over his back. The red shirt that he was wearing mitigated the effects, but the Icarus was ruined beyond recognition. His assailant was severely reprimanded for assaulting a fellow-anarchist and received seven years imprisonment for defacing a national art treasure.


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