A Desert Harvest: New and Selected Essays

Bruce Berger. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-374-22057-0
Poet and essayist Berger (The End of the Sherry) reminisces in this collection about his life in the American Southwest and and Baja California Sur, capturing the effects of arid yet vibrant landscapes on the psyche. These lyrical, usually brief pieces delight—and sometimes frustrate—in their insistence on specificity. Berger watches an eclipse in La Paz, where the influx of tourists pales in comparison to attendance at Carnaval, and, in a single-page essay, proposes that desert sunsets are most awe-inspiring when one looks eastward, at the “last rays, deflected through clear skies, [which] fall on the long, minutely eroded mountain ranges and bathe our eyes with light of decreasing wavelength and cooling colors.” Even in pieces less directly concerned with the desert, Berger remains focused on place. In one of the longer essays, he reflects on how the English word privacy has recently entered the Spanish vocabulary, perhaps due to large numbers of La Paz inhabitants returning home from living in the “privacy-oriented States.” At times, the essays meander and get bogged down in detail, but at their best, Berger imbues his rich images with an enticing sense of narrative possibility and symbolic meaning. (Mar.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated part of the book took place in La Paz, Bolivia, rather than La Paz, Baja California Sur.

Reviewed on: 12/10/2018
Release date: 03/12/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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