It is a habit of mine to read several books at the same time. I take up a book according to my mood, the available time, the subject, etc. These days I was/am reading John Berger’s Hold Everything Dear, José Saramago’s Memorial del convento and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. There are five or six other books I started in but that didn’t hold my attention. They’ll pop up later.
This small book (140 pages) took me longer than usual because it is so full of insight. It is a collection of small texts: not stories, not essays, nor columns. Dispatches, they are called, but dispatches to whom? Like messages in a bottle?
The texts are dated between 2001 and 2006 and they tackle such subjects as 9/11, Palestine, Katrina, the metro bombing in London. Berger meditates about the war in Iraq, about poems by Nazim Hikmet, about the many walls in the world, about the meaning of place, about the meaning of endurance.
He writes about what is important, important to ordinary people wherever they live. To live a life in dignity for instance. He is not someone who writes from behind his desk. He knows the Palestinian farmers he writes about. His insight is deep. I already read his novel To the wedding and at my bedside I’ve got Pig Earth. I still have to read his classic: About looking. This he can.
How is it I am still alive? I’ll tell you I’m alive because there’s a temporary shortage of death. This is said with a grin, which is on the far side of a longing for normalcy, for an ordinary life.