The principal action in A Painter of Our Time takes place across a stretch of some four years in the life of the fictional Hungarian painter Janos Lavin. The story is told in part by Lavin’s friend John, who resembles John Berger in several ways—not least in his being an art critic during this period—and who has discovered Lavin’s journal in the latter’s studio after his return to Budapest in October, 1956. The text alternates between passages from the journal and the interpolations of John, who fills in the gaps, narrating more fully the events surrounding the reflections recorded in the journal.
The journal opens in January, 1952, and closes in October, 1956, some five days before Lavin’s disappearance from London. Two weeks later, John receives a letter from Lavin in Budapest. These are the last words that Lavin’s wife and friends hear of him. All of their inquiries about his fate after the repression of the Hungarian Revolution by Soviet troops prove fruitless, although there is the strong suspicion that he has perished, either in the fighting or in the political executions that followed.
During the period covered by the journal, the reader receives a privileged glimpse of Lavin’s tortured reflections on art and politics, his struggles with his own work during that period, and his guilty sense of having abandoned the legacy of his revolutionary youth by emigrating to London to continue his career as a painter. The...
(The entire section is 527 words.)