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Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.

Pig Earth

Pig Earth - John Berger "Pig Earth" is the first novel of Berger's trilogy, "Into Their Labours" (made up of the novels Pig Earth, Once in Europa, & Lilac and Flag). It is set in a small French village on the impossibly steep slopes of the alpine Haute Savoie region where I lived for five years. Not that living somewhere for so brief a period makes me an authority but, for me, every sentence rang with authenticity. The attitudes, the world-view, the Weltanschauung of Savoyards are beautifully rendered. Berger has been accused of romanticizing the lives of peasants, but I think such critics are mistaken. While Berger's writing style is lyric, indeed, poetic (a number of poems are in fact scattered through the prose), the lives he describes, albeit in lush, sensuous prose, are harsh, exhausting, dirty, sometimes violent, filled with excrement and the scent of butchering, and frequently filled with regret and longing. (Reading these splendidly-written vignettes I cannot help but realize how ill-prepared I would be for such a life.) Of particular poignancy are the pieces describing the lives (sic) of Lucie Cabrol, known as the Cocadrille. Consider this excerpt:"Again she said my name as she had said it forty years before and again it separated me, marked me out from all other men. In the mountains the past is never behind, it's always to the side. You come down from the forest at dusk and a dog is barking in a hamlet. A century ago in the same spot at the same time of day, a dog, when it heard a man coming down through the forest, was barking, and the interval between the two occasions is no more than a pause in the barking."The reader should not skip the somewhat academic introduction, for it is here that Berger outlines his motivations for writing the book and his philosophy towards what he terms "peasant life." Although he does not gloss over its hardships, he does hold that such a life offers independence, autonomy, perspective, community, and pride in one's store of inherited knowledge. He does believe that the disappearance of this way of life, which he suggests is inevitable, will be a great loss to us all.Such incites are scatted throughout the stories as well, for example:"At home, in the village, it is you who do everything, and the way you do it gives you a certain authority. There are accidents and many things are beyond your control, but it is you who have to deal with the consequences even of these. When you arrive in the city, where so much is happening and so much is being done and shifted, you realize with astonishment that nothing is in your control. It is like being a bee against a window pane. You see the events, the colours, the lights, yet something, which you can't see, separates you. With the peasant it is the forced suspension of his habit of handling and doing. That's why his hands dangle out of his cuffs so stupidly."This slim volume is well worth the effort, and if Berger has erred in any way, it is perhaps in his desperation to make us experience what he has experienced as he lives and farms on this land himself. It is reminiscent, in this way, of Agee's "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men."