Here Is Where We Meet
"Why did you never read any of my books?"
"I liked books which took me to another life. That's why I read the books I did. Many. Each one was about real life, but not about what was happening to me when I found my bookmark and went on reading. When I read, I lost all sense of time."
Eighty-year-old John Berger has written plenty of literary works, ranging from poetry and essays to screenplays and novels. His Into Their Labours trilogy (PIG EARTH, ONCE IN EUROPA, and LILAC AND FLAG) and book WAYS OF SEEING have both received worldwide recognition, and he was awarded the prestigious Booker Prize for his novel, G. Born in England and currently living in a small village in France after countless years of travel, Berger is certainly an international man of letters and this itinerant influence and well-educated lifestyle permeate his work.
In his latest novel, HERE IS WHERE WE MEET, Berger continues to act the part of a hospitable chaperone. In a series of stories and essays that are tenuously linked yet can stand alone as individual musings, Berger guides his readers from one city to the next, from Lisboa and Genève to Islington and Le Pont d'Arc. Through his words, we are able to experience the heat of the African streets, the dark solitude of a French Cro-Magnon underground cave, and the bustling frenzy of a Polish marketplace. In each venue, we are introduced to past and present family members, loves, and complete strangers --- all with interesting stories to tell and all making an impact in their own quiet way.
In the first story, "Lisboa," John (the narrator) stumbles across his mother --- a vision of her, perhaps --- who died fifteen years earlier. Over the course of fifty or so pages, she and he explore the city and talk about living, death, and everything in between. She shares with him, as Berger shares with us, a philosophy on how to appreciate what you have both in life and in death: "Everything in life, John, is a question of drawing a line, and you have to decide for yourself where to draw it. You can't draw it for others. You can try, of course, but it doesn't work. People obeying rules laid down by somebody else is not the same thing as respecting life. And if you want to respect life, you have to draw a line."
In the story entitled "Genève," we travel to the city of the same name --- a city that is "contradictory and enigmatic as a living person…sexy and secretive." Here, in one of John's side anecdotes, we meet the legendary writer Jorge Luis Borges and are privy to his first humiliating boyhood experience with a prostitute. A moment later, we are brought back to the present and treated to a glimpse into John's trip to Genève with his daughter, Katya. During their stay, the two pay a visit to Borges's grave sight and, in doing so, rediscover the writer's curious and passionate native city firsthand.
In these and the rest of the seven offerings included in HERE IS WHERE WE MEET, John bares a close resemblance to Berger in that he is around the same age and shares the same temperament and voice. In his storytelling, he is both unassuming and contemplative, with frequent and somewhat disjointed reflections and observations peppered throughout. Almost as if he is talking into a tape-recorder in order to document his wanderings and create an audible travelogue, John relates his experiences with authority and grace, allowing the reader to enjoy these experiences as he himself would experience them.
Overall, HERE IS WHERE WE MEET is an enjoyable collection for those who are interested in skimming the surface of many locales and time frames, and forming their own opinions about what they encounter. For those who are looking for an in-depth journey or actual story, with solid characters, linear plots and subplots that are firmly grounded in reality, and an all-inclusive message, I would suggest looking elsewhere. It is clear that Berger ("John") has traversed many borders and boundaries in his long life, and it is possible that this latest "Fiction" might just be his way of summing up his physical, mental and emotional voyages for the more neophyte travelers and dedicated readers.
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on January 22, 2011
Here Is Where We Meet
- Publication Date: August 9, 2005
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Pantheon
- ISBN-10: 0375423362
- ISBN-13: 9780375423369