Here Is Where We Meet: A Story of Crossing Paths

ISBN: 1400079330
ISBN 13: 9781400079339
By: John Berger

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About this book

One of the most widely admired writers of our time returns us to the captivating play and narrative allure of his previous novels–G. and To the Wedding among them–with a shimmering fiction drawn from chapters of his own life.One hot afternoon in Lisbon, the narrator finds his long-dead mother seated on a park bench. “The dead don’t stay where they are buried,” she tells him. And so begins a remarkable odyssey, told in simple yet gorgeous prose, that carries us from the London Blitz in 1943, to a Polish market, to a Paleolithic cave, to the Ritz Hotel in Madrid. Here Is Where We Meet is a unique literary journey that moves freely through time and space but never loses its foothold in the sensuous present.

Reader's Thoughts

Lane Ashfeldt

Artist, Marxist art critic and author John Berger is likely to be best remembered as writer of the influential ‘Ways of Seeing’, a book and accompanying TV series dating to 1972. The book became a cornerstone of cultural studies theory and is, to this day, required reading at art schools and universities around the world. The fact that in the same year he received the Booker Prize for an experimental novel, ‘G’, is relatively overlooked, as is his acceptance speech in which he deplored literary awards and announced his intention to donate half his prize money to the Black Panthers. If this sounds like the attention-seeking bluster of an enfant terrible, it is worth noting that at the time the writer was actually 46. Now nearly 80, Berger has burst back on to the literary scene with the publication of ‘Here is where we meet’, a book that mixes fiction with essay, past with present, and death with life.Structured and packaged as eight and a half pieces of fiction, these ‘stories’ provide a framework for autobiographical essays that have as much in common with travel writing and philosophy as with fiction, and the book also finds time to intermittently argue with itself over whether or not it is an autobiography. The protagonist, John, bears a number of resemblances to Berger. In the early pages, his mother cautions him: —You sound like somebody writing an autobiography. Don’t.— Don’t what? —You’re bound to get it wrong. Throughout this opening story, ‘Lisboa’, John converses with his dead mother. Each meeting, be it in a square or a café, at a fish market or on an elevated aqueduct, is described in luminous detail; together, these sequences function as an eloquent meditation on life, love, and death. John dances with his mother in a Lisbon café, and other café-goers stare, because she is only there for him. Elsewhere in the book dead teachers are encountered in Krakow and Madrid, while in the Islington home of a former art school colleague John sips tea and reminisces about friends, now lost or dead, who once meant everything to him, in a house itself redolent with its own half-remembered histories.An intimate book that deals lightly with heavy themes, ‘Here is where we meet’ gives its reader the impression of meeting, perhaps even being led an imaginary dance by, its author. It is for this reason a book which the reader does not want to end.(I wrote this review and it was first published in the Irish Examiner in 2005)Ways of SeeingWays of SeeingJohn Berger

Xiaomin Zu

A wonderful read in a rainy day when I miss my mom.


A wonderful writer. His talent is unquestionable and the story idea is wonderful--from place to place our narrator encounters the whimsical dead for a last conversation which has little, very little to do with death and everything to do with the reminder of the parts of others which they have given to us. We will always be able to see the world through the eyes of the people we love most, so why shouldn't they literally be with us there?Without a narrative structure the book begins to lose itself towards the end but it's short enough it's hard to notice. My favorite part was a visit, with the narrator's daughter, to one of the few characters to stay dead, the grave of Jorge Luis Borges. A beautiful, beautiful scene


Wonderful first chapter, set in one of my favorite cities (Lisbon), in which the protagonist meets up with his dead mother. It's just lovely, the way that they interact, not sappy, not too obvious, but just sort of picking up where they left off, despite the separation of death. All the chapters are set in different cities, and all put the main character in contact with a deceased person from his past. The Cracow chapter is quite good...wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to have another beer, just casually, with an old friend who has passed on? The writing is really good, too...restrained but evocative, both in describing the cities and the people. I think I was thinking Thomas Berger when I bought this book (doh!), but glad to meet up with another talented writer of that name.

Debbie Robson

** spoiler alert ** I find these days I tend to read more male writers than female and one of my new favourite male writers is John Berger. In Crossing Paths he not only chose the same title as myself for a book but he has written in a way that suggests he really is a kindred spirit and that similar themes are important to him too.In Crossing Paths the protagonist John is travelling to some very fascinating places and meeting with the dead -with the people that have influenced him the most. Early in the novel John asks his dead mother: “So time doesn’t count and place does?” I felt a prickle at the back of my neck reading those words. Why can’t the dead live anywhere they chose? His dead mother has chosen Lisboa because of the trams. “There aren’t many cities left with trams, are there?” she asks him.There is a chapter on Borges and Geneva and a wonderful chapter on Krakow and Ken, an older man who taught the young John a lot about life and how to live. John remembers Ken standing on the edge of a cliff making a sketch of the sea, near Brighton the summer of 1939. In London the protagonist remembers a woman he made love to and how they would look out the window at the trees in Coram’s Fields. In the village of Gorecko near the Ukranian border John meditates on his new friends, a wedding and a child. In his writing I am there in Gorecko, marvelling at a completely different way of life; I’m standing on the Aguas Livres acqueduct in the Alcantara valley and I’m in a London long gone. This book, touching on lives and places is much more enjoyable than any travel book I have read and in a strange way more informative.


So far, I adore this. And perfect timing. Kind of meta-fiction...It's been years since I read "Ways of Seeing" for one of my art classes, and when a friend of mine got this for me, I was very excited to see something by Berger again. It's an incredibly easy / fast read, and very interesting. There's not much subtext - it's pretty much all right there on the surface. Extremely accessible. Definitely makes me want to read more of his fiction.


I've read the English pocket edition which has been published by Vintage International. John Berger's "Here is where we meet" is fiction at it's best and tells the stories of the narrator's encounters with people that are dead for a long time. And these people played an important role in the narrator's past. By the way, there are also translations of this book into German and other languages. The book starts and ends with a talk that the narrator has with his dead mother. At different places in Europe, like Lisbon, Poland and other locations, the narrator has more of those encounters in which the dead persons become interlocutors and companions. John Berger blends in his book the past and the present, and he mixes his autobiography, different travelogues, history and phantasy as well. In this book you can guess what it means to be free in your writing in the here and now.Ich habe die englische Taschenbuchausgabe, die bei Vintage International erschienen ist, gelesen. John Bergers "Here is where we meet" ist Fiktion im besten Sinne und erzählt von Begegnungen des Ich-Erzählers in der Gegenwart mit längst verstorbenen Personen, die eine Rolle in seiner Vergangenheit gespielt haben. Eine deutsche Ausgabe ist im Carl Hanser Verlag erschienen. Das Buch beginnt und endet mit einem Gespräch, das der Ich-Erzähler mit seiner toten Mutter führt. An verschiedenen Orten in Europa, wie beispielsweise in Lissabon oder auch in Polen, kommt es zu weiteren solchen Begnungen, in denen die Toten zu Gesprächspartnern und Begleitern werden. Vergangenheit und Gegenwart vermengt John Berger in diesem Roman genau so wie Autobiographie, Reisebeschreibung, Geschichte und Fantasie. Man ahnt beim Lesen die Freiheit der Kunst im Hier und Jetzt.


Veronica Martin (Editorial Intern, The Open Bar): Barely back from the tropics and already I’m itching to travel again, this time to John Berger’s kind of city where the dead are as present as the living in Lisbon, Geneva, Madrid, Krakow. There is a mood to Here Is Where We Meet, this gem of a book by Berger, that holds a kind of wanderlust for the interim realm of the dead and the past and the in-between. And, I like to think—by way of that past tense, by it’s very momentary disconnect from the now—for the present. Berger captures the kind of personality a place takes on when you are traveling alone, revisiting places and memories alone, feeling the presence of another’s absence… alone. His cities are haunted and haunting, a platform through which to experience his deceased mother, ask her questions, learn from her journey through death the way we so completely, so physically, wish we could have a conversation with some of our own deceased beloved. This book shivers along the spine of surrealism, imagining the act of cooking and serving a meal as a way for the already dead to connect with other already dead in a sort of melting of time and space. To feel, through cooking, the presence of someone’s absence: “He’ll eat it, wherever he is, when he happens to think of me. Just as I think of him when I’m preparing it.” Indeed, the presence of John’s mother is as real when she is appears—on a park bench with “the kind of stillness that draws attention to itself,” as an old woman, a seventeen year old voice, all knowing at times—as when she is nowhere to be found. The idea that the dead choose the city in which they want to live, as she explains, is wildly romantic and so, to me, is this book in the same way a sustained note of heartbreak can be romantic: indulgent and pure and grounding. This book’s presence in a room in a hand in a mind is hushed, Berger so takes you into the particular world of his protagonist. And there, time and presence is apart, the world’s human sound outside the vacuum of some in-between into which you as reader have slipped without even realizing it: “You can either be fearless, or you can be free, you can’t be both.”

Áine Ryan

John Berger can do no wrong in my book.

Night RPM

Sublime and subtle "ghost" stories. Not too many people seem to have appreciated this book when it came out, and probably won't be remembered as one of Berger's "important" books when he passes, but the pleasures afforded by this book are delightful and many.

Ronan Mcdonnell

I am part-way through. There is a lovely moment I must note down.The book is a fiction, wound around the details of the author's life. He meets his dead mother and tells her he working on an autobiography.She advises him not to, he will get it wrong______I have now finished it.It is a wonderful, melodic book. A quiet meditation on the unspoken minutiae of the details in our relationships. There is a gossamer melancholy throughout, a sense of the frailty of life and the bonds we form. But this same feeling is a celebration of these details, of the smaller parts that make instances memorable.


As an artist I'm a big fan of John Berger. This book is delightful. Each section takes place in a different city: Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, London and Krackow and each of these the main person (the author himself) meets again with a dead person who had been very close to him in life. They discuss the close to heart issues they never talked about while they were living. Because he sees with an artist's eye, the descriptions of the cities and countryside are vivid and as colorful as paintings and if you've visited these cities it's like going back for another brush with Europe. Each encounter is packed with nuances that only an artist sees, feels and records.


Reading this was like eating a perfectly ripe mango while crying.


having only read 'ways of seeing' long ago, didn't know berger's other genres...this is a tour de force, and his dialogues pass through each other in chapters on places (mostly) like fitful lights through smoke, a touch in the dark...history is a veil here, bearing up visitations with the ghosts of his mother in lisbon, his lovers in various places, his teachers, his responses to cro-magnon cave drawings, one painting (rembrandt the polish rider)...eager now to read his novels, not sure where to start.

Terri Epp

I read about a quarter of this book and found I could not get into it. The strange meetings with his dead mother seemed to flip all around with no substance to it.

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