Book Break: Here Is Where We Meet

A colleague of mine stopped me a while back to loan me a book I hadn’t asked for. “It’s kind of hard to explain,” she said. “It starts with this old man meeting his dead mother seated on a park bench. It’s kind of a novel, kind of a memoir. I don’t know why, but I thought you might like to read it.”

The book was Here Is Where We Meet: a fiction by John Berger. That’s what she said, or something very like it. And I can’t characterize it much better. I can say that I’m glad I read it. It’s relatively short, beautifully written, intriguing start to finish, with amazing detail about history, anthropology, art, music, and food. I hesitate to recommend it, because I can’t even describe it, but I’d give it 3.5 to 4 stars (out of 5), with the caveat that I’m almost certain it’s going to stick with me and grow on me over time.

It is not a book for young readers, but not because it’s “adult” in the popular sense (although it has a few moments). It’s a mature book. I’m sure if I were to read it again in a decade or two (or had I grown up and come of age during the two World Wars) I would take different things from it. Perhaps I’ll read it again one day.

A few lines struck me as particularly thought-provoking or beautiful. I’m sharing primarily to not lose them when I return the book:

  • Describing 15,000-year-old cave paintings in France, and the arise of both need and ability of our Cro-Magnon ancestors to create them: “Art, it would seem, is born like a foal who can walk straight away. The talent to make art accompanies the need for that art; they arrive together.”
  • Describing the skill of a charcoal drawing of an ibex in the same cave: “Each line is as tense as a well-thrown rope…”
  • Wise words from a deceased mother: “You can either be fearless, or you can be free, you can’t be both.”

Finally, here is a review that captures my impressions fairly well.

4 thoughts on “Book Break: Here Is Where We Meet

  1. I dunno, JB — I take it to mean that because freedom involves uncertainty and risk (of failure, of safety and security, of heartache, etc.), fear is a natural part of the equation. The only path to certainty is to yield that freedom to be our own master (hence the old saying, “The only things that are certain is death and taxes.”). Unfortunately, that certainty is often a cold certainty that cares little for our desires or fulfillment.

    We can, of course, choice freedom, with its risks and uncertainty, and then respond with courage and “adopt fearlessness” — knowing that it's more fulfilling to strive and risk failure than to succumb to complacency and let others determine our our fate for us.


  2. Mmm. Putting in on my to read list.

    At first I had Jinglebob's reaction to the fearless vs. free quote, but I agree with your explanation. It's the fear from which we sometimes need to free ourselves.


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