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PJE

PJE

King (Bloomsbury Paperbacks)

King: A Street Story (Bloomsbury Paperbacks) - John Berger 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}