Synopses & Reviews
On a hot afternoon in Lisbon, our narrator, John, meets his mother, who died 15 years earlier. The dead don't stay where they are buried, she tells him. And so begins a remarkable odyssey, told in simple yet gorgeous prose and with the openness to personal and political currents that has always marked John Berger's work.
Having promised his mother that he will hence-forth pay attention to the dead, John takes us to a woman's bed during the 1943 bombardment of London, to a Polish market where carrier pigeons are sold, to a Paleolithic cave, to the Ritz Hotel in Madrid. Along the way, we meet an English aristocrat who always drives with her foot bare on the gas pedal, a pedophile schoolmaster, a Spanish sculptor who cheats at poker, and Rosa Luxemburg, among other long-gone presences, and John lets us choose to love each of them as much as he does.
This is a unique literary journey in which a writer's life and work are inseparable; it is fiction, but not a conventional novel; a narrative in the author's voice, but not a memoir; a portrait that moves unconventionally through time and space, but never loses its foothold in the present; a confession that brings with it not regret, but a rich deepening of sensual and emotional understanding.
"Lisbon is to Mother as Geneva is to Borges? Berger's elegiac gathering of semi-autobiographical vignettes seems at first to propose an elegant, somewhat chilly game of linking European cities to their dead. But as the table of correspondences broadens to include a formerly unhip London neighborhood, a French Cro-Magnon cave site, two rivers at opposite ends of a continent and a woman nicknamed Clarinette, it gets harder and harder to identify which of Berger's equally vivid characters exists only in memory. Most poignantly, in a section centered on the tiny Ching and Szum rivers of England and Poland as remembered by his father, Berger juxtaposes a boyhood spent at the edges of his father's WWI trauma with a contemporary portrait of a friend from Galicia, Danka, who lives exuberantly, meets her husband-to-be in Paris and gives birth to a son, Olek; threaded throughout are Berger's preparations as he cooks for their visit. Berger (Ways of Seeing) will be 80 next year; a mammoth collection of his essays was published in 2001. With its clarity and beautifully proportioned contours of fictive memory, this book makes the perfect site to encounter Berger for the first or 50th time." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Discrete scenes from a mellow, largely autobiographical journey through time and space." Kirkus Reviews
One of the most widely admired writers of our time returns us to the captivating play and narrative allure of his previous novels G. and To the Wedding among them with a shimmering fiction drawn from chapters of his own life.
About the Author
John Berger is a novelist, storyteller, poet, screenwriter, and art critic.