PHOTOCOPIES by John Berger


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Featherlight touches and resonant phrasing have been Berger's stock in trade through his extensive career as novelist and critic (To the Wedding, 1995, etc.). This collection of short fictions (many, apparently, drawing heavily on the particulars of Berger's long life) is no exception, though these vignettes are colored with a pervasive melancholy that works as often to their detriment as to their advantage. "Sometimes it seems that, like an ancient Greek, I write mostly about the dead and earth." This sentiment, which begins "A Friend Talking," a short, poignant piece on the death of an artist in Paris, typifies the air of bittersweet remembrance cloaking the book as a whole. Another friend, a survivor of the Gulag living outside of Paris in a Le Corbusier house, is being forced in old age to leave the home where his mother waited for 14 years for him to return from Siberia ("A House Designed by Le Corbusier"). A visit with photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson triggers a wide-ranging conversation on art and images ("A Man Begging in the M‚tro"), while a visit in high summer to an artist living in Galicia ("Sheets of Paper Laid on the Grass") involves looking at her primordial mollusc-inspired drawings, which invoke the work of Paul Klee. Other visits range from a trip to the Italian hills to see the crumbling ancestral home outside of which a friend's mother has recently planted a single jasmine, to yet more visits with painters, usually friends of long acquaintance. The cumulative effect of these special events, both sad and satisfying, is a gentle yet persistent distancing, a refinement of memory's moments into acts of archetypal sharing. With so clear a focus on death and detachment, it's hard not to see this collection as a sort of letting go--though not, one hopes, a cap on the career of so keen an observer and grandly gifted a writer.
Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-43525-5
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1996


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