British art critic and novelist Berger's (Corker's Freedom, 1993, etc.) poetic sensibilities, already acute, are heightened here magnificently in a wrenching tale of young lovers whose future is poisoned by AIDS but who nevertheless seize the present, making their wedding a fulfilling, time-transcendent event. Legitimizing the story's many temporal shifts is a blind Greek peddler who hears many voices across the years, an aural Tiresias, after selling a charm to the bride's father in an Athens market. Jean is a French railworker of Italian ancestry, who met the Czech Zdena when she fled the Soviet crackdown in her homeland after the Prague Spring of '68. Love and their daughter Ninon kept them together, but after eight years in exile, Zdena's yearning took her back to Prague alone, and there she stayed. Ninon grew to be strong-willed, beautiful, and thirsty for new experiences. In an Egyptian exhibition in Verona, she meets Gino, self-assured son of a Lombardy scrap-dealer making his living as a traveling salesman, but she severs their relationship when she learns a previous lover has left her HIV-positive. Gino persists in his attentions, even after hearing Ninon's secret, and persuades her to marry him; with the wedding to take place in a town south of Venice where the broad Po river meets the sea, her parents make their separate, soul-searching treks to be there. The wedding scene itself — a fluid, life-affirming mix of feast, fest, romance, and family unity — also contains the images of dying that will be Ninon and Gino's inevitable future. It is a haunting climax, flawlessly formed. While the tragedy of AIDS has spawned many poignant works in the last decade, few have achieved the level of emotional, psychological, and physical harmony found here.
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