Monday, September 08, 2008

From A to X - John Berger

  • We are allowed access to the letters sent from A’ida to Xavier during his time in prison.  We are eavesdroppers in their story - trying to build a picture of their lives despite the non-chronological order of the letters and the lack of responses from Xavier.  We cannot know everything, we are asked to read between the lines.  We must bring our own contribution to this story.  Berger demonstrates the principle of show not tell at its very best.  
  • Everyday events are interspersed with feelings and thoughts.  This is true communication - the art of letter writing, of love.   It is writing to share life experiences, however mundane.  Love is so tangible in these letters - perhaps proving that absence does make the heart grow fonder, perhaps such passionate expressions of love could only be shared through a letter rather than face to face.  
  • The troubles in their country are inherent and referred to but never dominate and aren’t explained or justified or attacked - and they gain power for that.  A’ida shields Xavier from the harsher truths, sometimes only offering him news that will comfort him.  She writes the harder things for herself, but they remain unsent.  
  • There are many striking moments that will stay with me for a long time - images and events that A’ida describes, like flying with Xavier, the isolation, the height and defying gravity.  Berger captures the sensuality of this woman so well.  One of my favourite letters was the one where she is eating blackcurrants and spotting small snails.
  • Collected quotes - ‘He walked several hundred metres down the road to one of the ancient ruins, where a window-frame was still a window-frame, even if there was no glass, and a chair was still a chair with two legs missing.  There he found in an outhouse what he was looking for - a broom.’ and ‘I take a small bite for both of us.  The baked wheat flour and almond dust, sweet and a little greasy, lines the top of the palette, it sticks to the curved roof of the mouth, whilst below, on the floor, on our tongue lie tiny fragments of roasted nut to shift between the teeth and bite into.’
  • My favourite Booker read so far - 8 out of 10 snails

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