King: A Street Story

ISBN: 0375705341
ISBN 13: 9780375705342
By: John Berger

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Reader's Thoughts

Michael Brickey

From the perspective of a dog, Berger offers a view of the world from the bottom. King, a street dog, has found his home among the marginalized who have built a small makeshift neighborhood in the un-"developed" space adjacent to a freeway. Beyond creating a narrative that focuses mainly on what King sees, hears, and smells along with his daily telepathic conversations with Vica and Vico, his owners so to speak, Berger weaves a pointed criticism of the modern dog-eat-dog society. In this piece of fiction, Berger aims to show what has always concerned him in his nonfiction works: that in our continual competition with each other over resources, land, money, and material acquisition we are systematically devouring ourselves. There are beasts among us and they are not the street dogs. In fact, you probably voted for the beasts.

Phillip Edwards

John Berger has a sparse, uncomplicated, writing style, and the matter-of-fact way he discloses unexpected details can be devastating. For example, on the second page you are jolted with this:"A month ago a gang of kids poured petrol over an old manwho was sleeping in a street behind the Central Stationand then they threw a match on to him. He woke up in flames."The book chronicles the events of a single day in the life of a homeless couple called Vica and Vico, as seen through the eyes of King - a stray dog who befriends them and follows them around. He becomes their companion and our narrator. King tells us how his previous companion Luc committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. Then he describes the community of down-and-outs living on the 'scrap mountain' called Saint Valery, somewhere near a motorway in somewhen France, on which they eke out their existence scavenging. Saint Valery may be chosen as the site of a new Olympic Stadium, in which case contractors will move in and bulldoze their world...This is an unforgettable book. It surprises you, moves you, and pricks your conscience. I'm ashamed to admit that one reason it caught me by surprise is that Vica and Vico aren't a pair of young drug addicts, they are an elderly couple, married for thirty years, who used to have a 'normal' life (whatever that means) but have ended up on this human scrapheap following redundancy. To society's shame, they are redundant. This is a day in the life of people literally living on a scrapheap, struggling to survive. As details of their lives are revealed, and their devotion to each other shines through, it breaks your heart. Even to be allowed to stay on the scrapheap they have to pay - and in order to raise the money, Vico sells his last possession, a camera..."Do you want to know the photos I've taken with the camera you are holding in your hands?" asks Vico."We are not interested" says the shopkeeper.Is he including us, the readers, in that "we"? Are we interested in the life story of a 'tramp'? Do we care? This is the book that made me realize why so many homeless people seem to have dogs. it's because stray dogs recognize them as fellow outcasts. And because dogs don't discriminate - they see the human beings we choose not to, and befriend them.This may not be the greatest novel of all time, but it is full of simple humanity and the triumph of the human spirit over adversity; and the way it haunts me and keeps drawing me back to re-read it make it one of my favourite books of all-time.{Adapted from a review I posted on ciao.co.uk in March 2001}

Laura

Dog poetry. If I liked poetry I would probably like this book whole lot more. Although it's fun to imagine a dog with a british accent.

Miranda

I felt that this book got better towards the end. It took a while for me to feel much connection with the characters, even by the end I felt more of a connection with the concept of their home rather than the people themselves I think. It wasn't necessarily a book that I always wanted to pick up, but there were some lovely poetic paragraphs throughout. The end was both emotive and made me think - both good things!

Kate B

Amazing. Great prose. Great story. From the perspective of a homeless dog.

Kirstie

A fascinating read..life on the street from the perspective of a dog. He is in his own way a literary version of a street photographer...a well written adventure and a different take on life.

Jim

My friend Colleen gave this book to me. The narrator, a dog in England, describes his relationships with the people he lives with - a group of homeless folks squatting on land between a motorway and the sea. Very interesting. Memorable line occurs on page 73, when the character Vico, commenting on pillars carved into the likeness of naked women, said, "They were a sign...of a confident civilization which displayed in public art what it liked to enjoy in secret." I thought this book was rich in both ideas and the sounds of language, whatever that means. Thanks Colleen.

Charlie

Rating this book caused me a lot of internal conflict. And now here it is with its not-so-fancy two-star rating and you're probably wondering, "Well, Charlie, you obviously weren't impressed, so why the conflict?"My explanation is this:Berger is an amazing writer. Some of the lines in this book are so beautifully written that I wish I'd kept King at its original three-star rating. But the problem is that when all was said and done, the quality of the writing didn't knock me over more than the characters disinterested me. JB gives us a handful of vagrants and tells us of their life from the perspective of a dog. Well, I'm a cat person, so shame on me and shame on Berger for not catering to that side of me. Additionally, we're given these characters who are sad and forgotten by society and the truth is that I WANT to want to care about them and I don't. The majority of the characters are mentioned in the first chapter and that not really handled again until the end. King is dog, albeit a gracefully spoken and intelligent dog, but therein lies the problem: by being a dog, he in fact lacks humanity. And his owners, Vico and Vica are... what are they? Forgettable. Yes, they're homeless. Yes, that's a shame. But give me something to grasp here other than a throw away reference to not having had fire insurance and one of the character's real names from his past life. Yes, the characters are insightful and well-spoken. Yes, if I was rating this book based on JB's writing alone, I'd probably give it a three (maybe a four, the guy's got a knack). But, in the end, when I'm left feeling like the book I've just read was an unentertaining mess of characters I didn't care for in a situation I couldn't (and hopefully never will have to) relate to, this book has earned two stars, no more, no less.

Peter

A piece of post-apocalyptic poetry, King gives us a glimpse into the souls of shanty-town dwellers and their tugs of war between what they once savored and what they now endure. Narrated by a dog, King peels away artifice to serve us the heart of Saint-Valery's denizens.

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