9780394751641 / 0394751647

Once in Europa





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About the book:

Once in Europa was first published by John Berger in 1987. Bloomsbury's reissue of this moving love story has been given a new and poignant twist with the addition of award-winning photographer Patricia Macdonald's remarkable colour images which punctuate Berger's lyrical tale of stoical romance in the midst of agrarian collapse and the depredations of heavy industry in Central Europe in the 1950s.

Odile lives with her ageing father as he fights to retain his smallholding amidst the encroachment of the local steel works. She recounts that "the first sounds I remember are the factory siren and the noise of the river", and her idyllic childhood is increasingly eroded and replaced by the environmental destruction which the factory visits upon both its surroundings and those who work there: "the furnaces throbbed, the river flowed, the smoke, sometimes white, sometimes grey, sometimes yellow, thrust upwards into the sky, men worked night and day for generations, sweating, retching, pissing, coughing". Odile's promising school career is cut short as she falls in love with the communist steelworker Stepan. His sudden death at the factory, and the company's indifference to the pregnant Odile leave her destitute, ultimately finding solace in another victim of the factory's malign practices, the crippled Michel.

The tragic impact of industrialisation upon a rural community is wonderfully judged by Berger, and there are passages of exquisite lyricism and stoicism as Odile attempts to eke out an existence for herself and her children. Macdonald's photographs beautifully complement the tone and atmosphere of Berger's text, especially her astonishing aerial photographs of urban and rural wildernesses. This is a sober snapshot of late 20th-century Europa. --Jerry Brotton

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