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.