From A to X: A Story in Letters

Overview

In the dusty, ramshackle town of lives A?ida. Her insurgent lover Xavier has been imprisoned. Resolute, sensuous and tender, A?ida?s letters to the man she loves tell of daily events in the town, and of its motley collection of inhabitants whose lives flow through hers. But the area is under threat, and as a faceless power inexorably encroaches from outside, so the smallest details and acts of humanity ? an intimate dance, a shared meal ? assume for A?ida a life-affirming significance, acts of resistance against ...

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Overview

In the dusty, ramshackle town of lives A’ida. Her insurgent lover Xavier has been imprisoned. Resolute, sensuous and tender, A’ida’s letters to the man she loves tell of daily events in the town, and of its motley collection of inhabitants whose lives flow through hers. But the area is under threat, and as a faceless power inexorably encroaches from outside, so the smallest details and acts of humanity — an intimate dance, a shared meal — assume for A’ida a life-affirming significance, acts of resistance against the forces that might otherwise extinguish them.

From A to X is a powerful exploration of how humanity affirms itself in struggle: imagining a community which, besieged by economic and military imperialism, finds transcendent hope in the pain and fragility, vulnerability and sorrow of daily existence.

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Editorial Reviews

Leah Hager Cohen
By telling us the letters are not in chronological order, by proposing that their contents may be written in code and by indicating places where the writing is illegible, Berger the author invites us to interact with, to co-create, the text, guessing at the meanings of words and phrases, pondering what might have happened in the interval between letters, and imagining the reasons some were never posted. But "invites" is too mild a term, and "co-create" too academic. What he really does is charge the reader with the responsibility to join in…Berger's insistence on the unique, on the particular, prevents the novel from becoming a polemic. He rails against the blind sweep of oppression while keeping his gaze firmly rooted on the human: on human hands, which A'ida sketches over and over again in her letters, and on human longing, which suffuses this work with pain and beauty.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Berger is a Booker prize winner, art critic, journalist, essayist and the acclaimed author of Ways of Seeing. His latest is an epistolary novel that concerns two characters: Xavier, the alleged founder of a terrorist cell, and A'ida, his lover. The letters are A'ida's, written to Xavier over the course of his years of imprisonment and squirreled away in a corner of Xavier's small cell. They are adorned by Xavier's margin notes (ranging from political exclamations to quotations about love and longing) and A'ida's sketches. Through A'ida's letters, the reader gets a taste of daily life in the provincial village of Suse, where she works in a pharmacy. Though she puts on a happy face for Xavier, tanks and helicopters haunt the margins, and she drops coded hints that she may still be involved in the resistance. The letters are organized idiosyncratically, but by virtue of their disorder, Berger tanks the standard-issue long-distance love plot and instead provides a rich narrative that winds together the toll on a town besieged and of isolation on a romance; it's a paean to protest, both political and romantic. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

This short novel by Booker Prize-winning novelist Berger (G) takes the form of letters written by a woman to her jailed lover. A powerful sense of loss and longing hovers over these missives as A'ida describes to Xavier events in the town of Suse, including her work at the local pharmacy. Outbursts about the oppressive tactics of the regime that has upended both A'ida's and Xavier's lives emerge only occasionally and only in letters that she won't mail since the censors would never allow them to be posted. Xavier, whom she is not permitted to marry and is thus not able to visit, scrawls cryptic political messages on the backs of her letters. We come to recognize his heroism from these comments and from some references made by A'ida. But he is not the fully rounded character that she is. In her own quiet way, A'ida is a hero, too, steadfast and loyal to the man she will probably never see again. Deeply affecting is the portrait of her love, one of the few aspects of their lives that cannot be touched by tyranny. Recommended for all libraries.
—Evelyn Beck

Kirkus Reviews
A novel comprised of a series of letters allegedly "recuperated" by Berger (Hold Everything Dear, 2007, etc.). The letters were supposedly found in Cell 73 of a recently abandoned old prison, a cell that had formerly housed Xavier, a political prisoner-though in civilian life a mechanic-incarcerated for "being a founder member of a terrorist network, and serving two life sentences." A'ida is deeply in love with Xavier, and her letters are filled with reflections on their relationship and on life in the town where she lives. They concentrate especially on her small circle of family and friends, and the people she meets in her profession as a pharmacist. Through her reminiscences we learn how she and Xavier met, and she relives through her letters the exhilaration of their early days together. We also witness how her relationship to Xavier deepens as she shares her observations and perceptions with her absent lover. Although Berger presents no correspondence from Xavier himself, we get the man's voice through philosophical musings written by Xavier on the back of A'ida's letters. While A'ida's letters tend toward the lovingly personal (though she also "digresses" into speculations about the mind/brain/body problem), Xavier's tend toward the political and put the nebulous actions for which he's been imprisoned into a larger framework of injustice and oppression. Alluding to Lorca, for example, he comments: "The day that hunger disappears the world will see a spiritual explosion such as humanity has never known." The tone of the novel ultimately becomes ever more ominous, and although planes begin to attack the village and some of A'ida's friends are killed, her love is strengthened throughher loss and suffering. Berger's writing comes off as equal parts somber and exalted.
Independent
The record of one restless, committed, brilliant consciousness; a late showcase of astonishing range and depth, which should be read as an epic poem or lyrical essay as much as a novel.— Melissa Benn
From the Publisher
“An exquisitely written and constructed novel.”—Sunday Times

“Wrought with a miniaturist’s precision.”—New York Times

“John Berger has given us an exquisite thing. This is a book of controlled rage sculpted with tools of tenderness and a searing political vision.”—Arundhati Roy

From A to X is one of the most tender and poignant books I have read for many years. Its power rests in its economy of means, its account of enduring love surviving oppression. It demonstrates that however foul the forces oppressing us, love and the human spirit are indestructible.”—Harold Pinter

“The record of one restless, committed, brilliant consciousness; a late showcase of astonishing range and depth, which should be read as an epic poem or lyrical essay as much as a novel.”—Melissa Benn, Independent

Sunday Times
An exquisitely written and constructed novel.
New York Times
Wrought with a miniaturist's precision.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781844672882
  • Publisher: Verso Books
  • Publication date: 9/17/2008
  • Pages: 199
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Storyteller, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, dramatist and critic, John Berger is one of the most internationally influential writers of the last fifty years. His many books include Ways of Seeing, the fiction trilogy Into Their Labours, Here Is Where We Meet, the Booker Prize-winning novel G, Hold Everything Dear, the Man Booker–longlisted From A to X, and A Seventh Man.
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