KING by John Berger


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As usual from Berger (Isabelle, 1998, etc.), a deceptively simple tale—here, about a day in the life of a homeless couple and their German Shepard, on whom they rely—turns into a thing of eloquence and beauty, with tragedy and humanity evident in equal measure. King is the dog; he tells the story of his people, Vica and Vico, and the semblance of normality the three of them have brought to a homeless existence. Having joined a community of homeless in a trash-strewn wasteland, which they call Saint ValÇry, at the edge of a city and on the verge of a bustling motorway, like the others Vica and Vico constructed with painstaking care a home out of the refuse, a home that like the others reflects something essential of their personalities. From there they make their daily foray into town, to sit on the sidewalk and hawk the radishes they have grown to sell. Vica also makes a foray for water, taking it from a gas-station bathroom and trying to outwit the owner who would deny it to her. And in quiet moments they all dream, of who they were and who they might become again. King is a full partner in the adventures as well as in the dreams: he understands their thoughts, and they understand his. He is also the companion and watchdog of the community, from Jack the Baron, its leader and guardian, to Danny the jokester and the elderly Corinna. When darkness falls on this day, however, Saint ValÇry is facing obliteration, as soldiers and equipment move in to reclaim the site for development. King does what he can to aid those who resist, including Vico, who takes a knife to the officer in charge, but in the end resistance is futile and they are all truly homeless once more. Spare and dreamlike, yet for all its delicacy harshly real: a story that opens a window on a world easily ignored, and makes its case long after the last page is turned.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-40556-9
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1999


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