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To the Wedding by John Berger

August 20, 2016

All his stuff is interesting.

ttw3The story begins as a narrative within a narrative from the point of view of a blind —tamata  (small metal plaques, which may be of base or precious metal, usually with an embossed image symbolizing the subject of prayer for which the plaque is orthodox churches) peddler, who first encounters Ninon’s father when he wants to buy a tamata for his daughter, Ninon, who is suffering ‘everywhere’. The novel abruptly shifts its perspective to Ninon’s story. Ninon, a young woman in her 20s, meets a man working at a restaurant.  Reluctantly, she allows herself to be seduced and they end up making love the same day. They part, and she visits the restaurant again the following day only to hear from the chef that the man was an escaped convict and had been arrested by the police. The narrative is splintered to include the journey of Ninon’s father and mother to her wedding. Ninon travels around Europe and, on a visit to a museum, encounters Gino. They become devoted lovers, and in one memorable occasion break open a shack with their love-making. During the course of their relationship, Ninon notices sores on her lips and decides to see a doctor when they do not heal. To her shock, the doctor tells her that she has AIDS. She realizes that the man at the restaurant was the one who gave the disease to her and feels bitter and angry. She breaks off communication with Gino who is frantic to speak with her. Eventually, she explains to Gino that she has AIDS, expecting rebuke and disgust, but to her surprise, Gino proposes marriage. The lovers manage to create meaning in their lives in the face of approaching death.

It’s a story of life’s transience, of terrible things happening to innocent people There are two ways of responding to such injustices, the first being a religious practice, as exemplified by the narrator who sells “tomatas” at the beginning of the story to ward off evil happenings. The second is simply to realize that bad things happen to good people and to celebrate the present moment, the climax of this attitude being, of course, the wedding of two ordinary people.
The wedding guests become “a creature half mythical like a satyr with thirty heads. It only lives a day or two, and is reborn when there’s something to be celebrated”. This promise of happiness, and that’s all it is, a “promise” is further intensified by the food (the sacrificial lamb) and by the band which plays loud “to keep out the din of the world.” The characters oppose the darkness of an amoral and uncaring world by finding meaning in the tasks they do. Despite its dark subject matter, the tone is one of hope and triumph by the end of the book.

The landscape imagery of the novel is consistently one of a wasteland. Jean Ferrero, Ninon’s father, travels on his motorbike through vast landscapes and impenetrable darkness. As he nears his ultimate destination, his daughter’s wedding, the landscape becomes steadily more bleak – he is getting closer and closer to a void. However, even at the uttermost edge of the void, at the end of the novel, all the characters manage to find meaning.

TTWThematic Significance of Secondary Characters

  • The Blind Man: He understands the meaning behind small actions. He is able to overcome his disability.
  • Jean: He is able to overcome his own personal demons through coming to terms with his daughter’s inevitable death through the wedding ceremony and the journey to the wedding.dena: She assigns meaning to the smallest of actions, such as sleeping on her daughter’s bed. She repeatedly organizes the contents of her handbag before going to the wedding. This is her ‘task’, establishing order in her handbag.
  • Bird Call Makers: They attribute meaning to the bird call devices they sell. Zdena gives the devices to her daughter to create meaning in her life.
  • Tomas: He takes on small tasks such as taxi driving and postcards. He instantly forges a deep friendship with Zdena, and even though they know they must part in a short while, they both savor the time they have together while it lasts.

ttw2“Blindness is like a cinema, coz its eyes are not on either side of a nose but wherever the story demands.”

“When Zdena laughed it was like discovering a tree was still alive, although it had no leaves coz it was winter.”

“Thrushes look as if they’ve just taken a dust bath but they sing like survivors- like a swimmer who swam for it through the water and made it to the safe side of the night and flew into the tree to shake the drops from his back and announce: I’m here”

“Land is getting flatter, losing its folds like a tablecloth smoothed out by the hand of an old woman. In her other hand she holds plates and knives and forks. As the land gets flatter and flatter, its distances increase till a man feels very small.”

“The city is being announced by huge, printed or flashing words. Some syllables are so large that they seem to be deafening.”

“The laugh belongs to the body, not a joke. A laugh like a cape thrown over the shoulders of the words being spoken.”

“There may be despair particularly that of boredom, or the sudden mortal rage of fatigue. But the threat of the future as something different recedes. Every day leads to the next which is more or less the same.”

“The water was flat, only when it came up against something it wasn’t carrying away at its own speed, did it form a wave.”

“In small towns where the skyline hides nothing, they wait for moments during which life counts. Time here is often like time for athletes who prepare for months or years for a performance that lasts less than a minute.”

“He has the striking leanness that sometimes goes with percussion. To play a battery well, a man listens to silence, until it splits itself open into rhythms, eventually into every conceivable rhythm. It does this because time is not a flow but a sequence of pulses. Listening to that silence often makes a man’s body thin.”

“When time is pulse as music makes it, eternity is in the gaps between.”

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