Wednesday, 12 November 2008


During my student days, John Berger's Ways of Seeing was a prescribed text, and it made me realise for the first time that it is the observer who determines the way in which something is observed, and so how it is experienced.
Since this seminal work, Berger has published an impressive list of fiction, poetry and polemical works that similarly challenge social, cultural and political norms. Now over 80, he's still writing, and his latest title, A to X: A Story in Letters, was long-listed for this year's Man Booker Prize.
A vividly-imagined story of love and resistance, it examines a community in an unnamed oppressive state which, besieged by economic and military imperialism, finds transcendent hope in the small events of everyday life.
The book takes the form of a collection of letters from A'ida to her husband Xavier, an imprisoned insurgent. Tender and insightful, they tell of daily occurrences in their home town; occurrences that, through A'ida's eyes, become a profound indictment of authoritarianism in its many forms.
For as a faceless power encroaches on the run-down town of Suse, small acts of humanity - an intimate dance, a shared meal - assume for A'ida a life-affirming significance. They become acts of resistance against forces that might otherwise be utterly overwhelming.
From A to X is a powerful exploration of how humanity affirms itself in struggle, and will particularly strike a chord for South African readers, who are having to confront the development of a new kind of authoritarianism in this country 15 years after the advent of democracy.
“John Berger has given us an exquisite thing. This is a book of controlled rage sculpted with tools of tenderness and a searing political vision. Everything he writes about is profound, precise and invoiced: Liberty and the lack of it, hope and the lack of it, power and the lack of it, love and the terrible yearning that takes its place when the loved one has been taken away.”
Arundhati Roy
“From A to X is one of the most tender and poignant books I have read for many years. Its power rests in its economy of means, its account of enduring love surviving oppression. It demonstrates that however foul the forces oppressing us, love and the human spirit are indestructible.”
— Harold Pinter

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