cover image To the Wedding

To the Wedding

John Berger. Pantheon Books, $22 (202pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43981-3

Ritual and myth; technology and science; history, both natural and human--each plays a crucial supporting role in this novel about a Franco-Italian railwayman, a Czech engineer, their un-selfpitying HIV-positive daughter and the Italian street vendor who determines to marry her. Among the many beauties of this highly original work--which matches Berger's Into Their Labours trilogy in sweep and power--are its command of the various cultures and settings depicted and the way its voices filter through the central narrative presence, a blind Greek peddler of religious artifacts. Berger's gift for the succinctly rendered incident or detail--heightened in the context of the daughter's impending death--lends the tale both eventful density and narrative lightness, speeding it across the post-Cold War Europe that is the story's true love object, toward the moving and bittersweet scenes of the denouement. With its muted despair over our recent cultural and political failings (``Mankind has lost its nerve'') and its tender and determined celebration of its characters in spite of it, Berger's latest work speaks uniquely to the present. (May)