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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

To The Wedding

This novel by John Berger was recommended to me years ago by the leader of the political party I used to work for. I expected it to be more focused on politics, labour, poverty etc. and was very surprised to find a poetically-written tale about love at the end of the last century. I read it when it was first published, liked it and put it on my bookshelf along with hundreds of others I planned to read again. The other day I was doing some culling and decided to give it another go.
The story is told through the senses of a blind Greek peddler who hears everything. He sells tamata, a votive offering or ex-voto used in the Greek Orthodox Church. The story begins with Jean Ferraro buying a tama for his daughter, Ninon. When the peddler asks where she is suffering Jean replies, "everywhere".
There are several different narrators and the storyline is not linear so initially it is difficult to keep track of what is happening. Ninon and Gino are getting married. Ninon's parents, who are separated, are travelling from separate ends of Europe to the wedding in Italy, where the Po River joins the Adriatic Sea. It is gradually revealed that Ninon, a beautiful young girl, is HIV-positive as a result of a brief encounter some time ago. When she discovers this she attempts to sever her relationship with Gino, telling him that their life together would be short and brutal ending in her death. But Gino persuades her to marry him. The wedding is a beautiful, romantic celebration but Berger injects into it images of the future that lies ahead for Ninon and Gino and this adds an almost overwhelming poignancy to the ending. We see love and hope standing strong in the face of despair but for how long?
There's an impressionistic feel to the book and it was as if I were viewing the story through a layer of gauze. To The Wedding is a beautifully written and tremendously moving work. I'm glad I read it a second time. It's back in its place on the shelf in case I decide to read it again.

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