cover image Photocopies: Stories

Photocopies: Stories

John Berger. Pantheon Books, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43525-9

Taking on the themes of art, friendship and time's passage, Berger (To the Wedding) fashions brief shorts that subtly replicate the photograph's ability to preserve a transient moment. Berger's subjects include his familiar Parisian artists and French peasants, but there are unexpected detours--e.g., into Paul Klee's art (""Sheets of Paper Laid on the Grass"") or the communiques of Subcommandante Marcos, leader of the Zapatista revolt in the Mexican state of Chiapas (""Subcommandante Insurgente""). Most of these spare stories revolve around a single, central detail or scene: deceptive small talk on a bus to Derry (""Passenger to Omagh"") or a difficult calving on New Year's Day (""Two Men Beside a Cow's Head""). Only rarely does Berger's imagination fail to penetrate his subject's surface, as in his rhetorically sketched newswire image of a Russian girl fighting in the 1993 attempted parliamentary putsch (""A Young Woman Wearing a Chapka""). At his best, as in his meditations on Simone Weil's writing table (""A Girl Like Antigone"") or his drawing of a young Ukranian pianist (""A Young Woman with Hand to Her Chin""), Berger captures all at once the facets of an object, a moment and a person. ""Nothing should be lost or wasted,"" Berger writes in a eulogy for a villager, a claim that could stand as the epigraph to a book in which he frequently manages, through a few simple facts and words, to suggest a life. (Sept.)