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King: A Street Story Hardcover – April 20, 1999

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My Struggle: Book Four
Eighteen-year-old Karl Ove moves to a tiny fishing village in the Arctic Circle to work as a school teacher. As the nights get longer, the shadow cast by his father's own sharply increasing alcohol consumption, also gets longer. Read the full description

Editorial Reviews Review

"The Terrain is used as a dump. Smashed lorries. Old boilers. Broken washing machines. Rotary lawn mowers. Refrigerators which don't make cold any more. Wash basins which are cracked. There are also bushes and small trees and tough flowers like pheasant's-eye and viper's-grass."

In John Berger's powerful novel King, the Terrain is also home to a small community of the dispossessed. Here, a stone's throw from a highway somewhere in France, in shelters constructed out of detritus, live Jack and Marcello, old Corinna and Liberto, Joachim and Anna, and Danny and Saul. Here also live Vica and Vico, an elderly couple (and couples are a rarity among the homeless) and their dog, King. It is King who narrates this day-in-the-life narrative, and Berger has endowed him with the ability to understand and be understood: "Lying beside the chestnut brazier, something came to me between the ears: the world is so bad, God has to exist. I asked Vico what he thought. 'Most people,' he said quickly, 'would draw the opposite conclusion.'"

What makes King such a singular creation is that despite his philosophical bent and communicative skills, there is nothing anthropomorphic about him. He thinks, behaves, and reacts like a dog, albeit a dog who ponders the existence of the Almighty. Animals are not sentimental, and neither is Berger. His human characters are irrevocably damaged, their lives verge on the unbearable, and their attempts to create family and community at the edges of society are eventually thwarted. There can be no happy ending to this street story, but Berger is after something bigger than making his readers feel good. Instead he shines a spotlight on a world we would prefer to ignore, using the love that Vica, Vico, and King feel for each other to illuminate a humanity that is all too often overlooked. King is not an easy book to read, but it is impossible to forget. --Alix Wilber

From Publishers Weekly

It's difficult to tell a serious story in the voice of a dog, but that's what art critic (About Looking; Ways of Seeing) and novelist (G.) Berger has accomplished. The canine King introduces readers to a variety of intriguing humans in the squatter's community of Saint Val?ry, France, among them his ownersAthe well-educated but decadent Vico and the uncontrolled and passionate VicaAand Jack, the unofficial landlord of the settlement. The narrative rambles and ambles like its characters, blending speakers' reminiscences with present action; frequently, the squatters explain their pasts and describe how they became homeless. Berger creates a memorable setting for his cast, including an abandoned building jokingly dubbed Pizza Hut and a canyon called the Boeing because remnants of an aircraft have settled there. Though King narrates, much of the novel consists of human dialogue, with King functioning as a passive observer; his infrequent contributions, then, sensual and wise, are all the more notable and surprising. Berger's deceptively spare, disjointed style represents depths upon depths of perception and wisdom; in the bare landscape he has created, each word acquires symbolic resonance. So does each person: the political undercurrent in this tale of scrappy homeless people pushed out of the way by financial expediency will be lost on few readers. In bringing us so believably inside the head of an animal to elucidate the vagaries of human nature, Berger has not only accomplished an impressive technical feat, but has performed a humane act.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (April 20, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375405569
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375405563
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,514,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Berger was born in London in 1926. He is well known for his novels and stories as well as for his works of nonfiction, including several volumes of art criticism. His first novel, A Painter of Our Time, was published in 1958, and since then his books have included the novel G., which won the Booker Prize in 1972. In 1962 he left Britain permanently, and he lives in a small village in the French Alps.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By "lexo-2" on November 26, 1999
Format: Hardcover
King was published in the UK without John Berger's name on the cover. You only found it on the copyright page and on the endpaper at the back. This is a typically self-effacing move by a writer who is far more interested in telling stories than promoting himself. King takes us further into the zones of the dispossessed than Berger has gone before, even in his stunning trilogy Into Their Labours. A bunch of people live on a patch of urban wasteland; the narrator, King, is a dog who talks, or possibly a man who behaves like (maybe even appears as, maybe even is) a dog. They scrounge what little money and comfort they can get, always keeping an eye out for the authorities. Berger has never ceased to write about the people most writers neither know nor care about; his voice (or rather voices), his authority and his compassion are unique. And it's maybe the best book ever written with a dog as narrator, too.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
John Berger has always been on the cutting edge of language and ideas. He is a sort of exile from all the terminal hipness of literature. He is brave and provocative and he continually questions the order of things. He writes from a deep inner need, in order to say things all over again, as if they have never been told before. This novel, King, is a marvellous movement on from his novel "To the Wedding." It reads as a contemporary myth but I never once doubt the authenticity of voice -- which is strange, since the book is ostensibly narrated by a dog. Berger is in top form. Read this fiercely important book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on February 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
Mr. Berger uses man's best friend to describe the human existence of the homeless. The 24 hours of experiences the canine "King" relates, had to be told by an animal other than a human, it could not otherwise work. Man as an animal shares many commonalities with the rest of the animal kingdom. As time passes skills we thought unique to ourselves are becoming fewer, I would offer speech as an example. One only has to read of the care that Elephants treat their dead and dying, the ways they revisit their dead to understand that compassion too is something we have yet to master.
We can claim something that is unique to our group. We kill our own, we torture our own, we systematically exterminate and ethnically cleanse our own. And as King relates to us we lack the compassion for those we would prefer to ignore rather than to help. There is a moment when the act of dousing a sleeping man with gasoline and lighting him afire is described as the death of a heretic. King muses the heretic's crime, could it be he is poor?
This book can be easily dismissed as being nothing new and that perhaps is the point. We have become a group that is nearly impossible to shock, the youngest of our group now kill aimlessly, and older members kill the youngest with no more concern than swatting a insect. Those with power persecute the weak; it has become all but a sport.
Mr. Berger's book is important because it shows behavior that should be contemptible, but has become so common, so cliché, it is rarely even contemplated. He needed to use a dog to bring attention to a human problem because a person is not qualified to comment on how we behave.
An important book by a talented man who has lived a long life, and clearly is less than impressed with what he has seen.
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