As we grow older, the significant persons and signal moments of our lives become, strangely, not dimmer, but all the more vivid in our memories. For John Berger, Booker Prize-winning author and the most acute art critic of his generation, memory assumes a startling reality as he approaches his 80th year. He encounters his dead mother in Lisbon and walks through the fish market with her. In a Krakow shop, he shares a bowl of soup with his deceased mentor. He braves once more the cool regard of a tutor, a man who committed suicide long ago, in the lobby of the Ritz Hotel in Madrid.
He converses with all these ghosts, and others, who in life crucially lent a hand in forming his character and sensibilities. Whether or not the words they speak are truly their own, or only things he imagines they would speak, does not matter. Here Is Where We Meet is where Berger meets and gives voice to those he has loved and pitied, so that the life-giving power of fiction takes on a beautiful concreteness. For once, posthumously but not belatedly (that is the point: it is never too late), Berger listens to his mother and takes her ghostly advice: Do us the courtesy of noticing us. Berger is perhaps best known for the political cast of his writing, particularly for the way he champions the working poor. His trilogy of novels, Into Their Labours, celebrates and mourns the peasant cultures of Europe. But this new novel rooted in his own life experiences helps to show how wrong it would be to reduce Berger's imagination to politics. In every verbal portrait he paints, every line he draws his beloved ghosts, a Polish wedding that exceeds its proverbial joy, a newly discovered cave of paintings 30,000 years old the essential point is the dignity of work and of workers, the wonder of all art in which talent meets need, where the two forces arrive together. Even to make a savory pot of soup is worthy of praise. John Berger has always strung his lyre for such unsung glories. Michael Alec Rose is an associate professor of music at Vanderbilt University.