“To the Wedding” establishes John Peter Berger as a complete artist- writer, painter and musician who successfully acts on every sensory organ of the reader. The novel is more like an opera where a blind third person is narrating on behalf of most of the characters but in between Ninon (the protagonist), Gino (her fiancé) and even Frederico (Gino’s father) have pieces that they narrate themselves. The blind man describes the voices quite intrinsically: “Listening to her voice I saw slices of melon carefully arranged on a plate”
The narration has a pulse of its own, parallelly explaining the journey each one undertakes for the wedding and their way of handling the emotional turmoil. It is not chronological. 1 paragraph about Ninon is followed by 1 paragraph about her father who is repeatedly addressed to as “the Signalman”.
The novel is also like a series of paintings where John uses visual details to recreate the picture in the reader’s mind. The cover picture itself of a girl in a wedding dress with inverted feet is so apt.
This novel (published in 1995) was inspired by the discovery that his daughter-in-law was HIV positive and she later died of HIV. Frederico’s initially wanted to kill Ninon to save his son but on meeting Ninon and seeing the pain in her eyes gets transformed into saying, “Marry her. You are marrying a woman, and not a virus.” Frederico perhaps mirrors John’s inner conflict.
All I can say is that reading every line of the book is a sensory delight. I read the book twice simultaneously to absorb and appreciate the beauty of each line.
Few lines from the book for your pleasure:
“During the first year of my blindness the worst recurring moment was waking up in the morning. The lack of light on the frontier between sleep and being awake often made me want to scream.”
“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.”