A novel comprised of a series of letters allegedly “recuperated” by Berger (Hold Everything Dear, 2007, etc.).
The letters were supposedly found in Cell 73 of a recently abandoned old prison, a cell that had formerly housed Xavier, a political prisoner—though in civilian life a mechanic—incarcerated for “being a founder member of a terrorist network, and serving two life sentences.” A’ida is deeply in love with Xavier, and her letters are filled with reflections on their relationship and on life in the town where she lives. They concentrate especially on her small circle of family and friends, and the people she meets in her profession as a pharmacist. Through her reminiscences we learn how she and Xavier met, and she relives through her letters the exhilaration of their early days together. We also witness how her relationship to Xavier deepens as she shares her observations and perceptions with her absent lover. Although Berger presents no correspondence from Xavier himself, we get the man’s voice through philosophical musings written by Xavier on the back of A’ida’s letters. While A’ida’s letters tend toward the lovingly personal (though she also “digresses” into speculations about the mind/brain/body problem), Xavier’s tend toward the political and put the nebulous actions for which he’s been imprisoned into a larger framework of injustice and oppression. Alluding to Lorca, for example, he comments: “The day that hunger disappears the world will see a spiritual explosion such as humanity has never known.” The tone of the novel ultimately becomes ever more ominous, and although planes begin to attack the village and some of A’ida’s friends are killed, her love is strengthened through her loss and suffering.
Berger’s writing comes off as equal parts somber and exalted.