Blue collar and provincial Puerto Real in the police state that was Franco's Spain might seem an unlikely venue for an amusing, eccentric, and very sensitive artist's memoir. A graduate of Yale and a grad school drop out, pianist and writer Bruce Berger's whole life seems unlikely, lived wildly out of sequence, and in The End of the Sherry, the Spanish chapters thereof beset by, in his words, "a curious passivity." From the moment Berger washes up in a bar in Puerto Real, he and his beer-slurping dog drift and bob in the flow of happenstance. There are gigs with a rock band, a flash-in-the-pan career as a fishmonger, a pointless foray into Tangiers-- yet always with sails set toward his true loves, music and writing.
I first came across Bruce Berger's work in his travel memoir of Baja California, Almost an Island, and was enchanted by the beauty of his language, his courage in always pushing past clichés, and, best of all, his scrumptiously puckish sense of humor. Yes, I laughed out loud a lot in reading The End of the Sherry, too, and shook my head in wonder at the strangeness of his adventures and enthusiasms, and prodigious talent for cross-cultural friendships. Masterfully poetic, this belated coming-of-age / travel memoir throws a weird and wonderful lava-lamp light on his other works, even while standing solidly on its own, an exemplar of those genres.
In sum, a five star read.
> Recommended literary travel memoirs (updated)