Aimé Césaire’s Return to my Native Land: John Berger in conversation with David Constantine

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London Review Bookshop

You have to penetrate the language and go through the page to that experience - wordless really - that was waiting to be expressed by the writer.

John Berger came to the Bookshop to celebrate the life and work of Aimé Césaire on the occasion of Archipelago's reissue of Césaire's long poem Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (1936). Born in Martinique in 1913, Césaire was one of the founding voices of the négritude movement in Francophone literature. He considered this work his “break into the forbidden,” at once a cry of rebellion and a celebration of black identity. The English translation by John Berger and Anya Bostock retains the visceral, lyric energy of the French original.

John Berger opened the evening with a reading from Return to My Native Land, and was then joined in conversation by the poet and translator David Constantine. The pair discussed Césaire's work, exploring the value of lyric poetry, what it means to write in one's mother tongue and the nature of hope. Berger concluded the evening with a reading of Peter Blackman's 'Stalingrad'.