The heart of Berger's amazing life and literary project. Berger, a Booker Prize-winner and well-known left-wing art critic, left London in 1975 and made a new home in a peasant community in rural France, allowing his writing style to change (I would say develop) based on what he learned there. He wanted to know what the world was losing, or at least what Europe, that part of Europe was losing, in the processes of globalization and urbanization, the separating of the lower classes from a relationship with agriculture, animals, nature, locality, etc, that seemed to him, and to me, all of our umbilical cord (perhaps via "the pastoral" for higher/urban classes) to a stable reference for what-it-is-to-be-human. He explored rural/pastoral life in earlier books (Once In Europa and Pig Earth); here he writes about migrants to the city, conscripts in the new consumer culture.
It's a sci-fi book, partly narrated by a grandmother back in the ancestral village. If this sounds preposterous or cloying, fine, take it or leave it. I find Berger trustworthy and sincere. Dramatic tension is not his strong suit, which is fine with me, though it may be a problem for others. His strength is conception, evocation, and, again, sincerity. The choices are right. The allegory is right. The decisions not to go too far into allegory are right. It is the work of a gifted imagination harnessed by a powerful commitment. Berger isn't just a great writer, and this isn't just a great book. He's a hero, and this is his great labor.
From Frank Kermode's review in the LRB: "Readers are required to be as serious as writers – more precisely, as this writer, who, unlike some remarkable writers, is also a serious man."