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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Prophet

Samuel Rawet

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Prophet

Title: The Prophet
Author: Samuel Rawet
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 1998)
Length: 97 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: The Prophet - US
The Prophet - UK
The Prophet - Canada
  • and Other Stories
  • Taken from collections originally published between 1956 and 1969
  • Translated by Nelson Vieira

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Our Assessment:

B+ : small selection of precise, severe stories

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today . Spring/1999 Naomi Lindstrom

  From the Reviews:
  • "After reading the introduction, with its account of Rawet's dim outlook on his fellow human beings, and going through the realistic stories of disoriented immigrants that open the volume, readers may be surprised by the appearance of highly imaginative and occasionally playful elements in many of the narratives found later on. (...) The Prophet is well suited to use in courses on Jewish writing from Latin America. The production of the volume has some shortcomings, beginning with a jacket design that quite nearly obscures the author's name. However, Vieira's introduction makes the volume especially suitable for course adoption, and the choice of stories shows the full range of Rawet's work." - Naomi Lindstrom, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Prophet is a slim volume, less than a hundred pages (including an Introduction by translator Vieira that is longer than any of the twelve Rawet stories), but it packs a considerable punch. Rawet's stories are striking, and often achingly bleak. Many focus on isolated, displaced souls, refugees that come to a place that is in every respect foreign. Typically:

Amidst the commotion, standing still by the window Ida was lost, without language, without voice. Forced into a life that had never been hers.
       The first stories focus on survivors of World War II who have lost everything, and everyone they knew, and who have come far to start a new life. They are, at least initially, taken in, but everyone tires of them quickly -- "The stories wore out. So did the kindness." --; they simply don't fit in, and no one has the patience to help them fit in. They don't understand the language, making almost all communication impossible, but that's only the most obvious barrier separating them from everyone else.
       Even when Rawet moves on to a different scenario, such as a woman estranged from her family wanting to turn to her sister for help (in 'Judith'), the chasm between even these once so close family members proves impossible to bridge. In 'Little Gringo' it is the isolation of childhood that Rawet penetratingly, devastatingly conveys, where:
Of the intended vengeance the only thing that had remained was the frustration of not being able to explain, knowing it would be impossible.
       Words fail constantly here, whether simply because the characters don't have command over the language or because what they need to convey is fundamentally inexpressible. Even when the words are there, any sort of true understanding lags -- as in the final story, 'Lisbon by Night', where the same exchange is repeated over and over as one character keeps trying to come to grips with (a part of) the identity of the other:
     "Jewish ?"
     "Jewish !"
     "Brazilian ?"
       Rawet's language is very precise, the stories compressed. Sentences are often short, as if he wants to reduce everything to its essence:
     She risked asking a question.
     Monosyllabic answer.
       The stories are taken from four collections, grouped together. They range from the bleak to the playful, Rawet's approaches varying from collection to collection. After the pin-pointing detail and short, quick sentences of the first stories the contrast to an expansive, almost rambling opening sentence such as that of 'Christmas without Christ' (which goes one for some 150 words) is all the more shocking; Rawet suddenly proves harder to get a real handle on.
       Several of the later stories play with fiction itself, such as 'Faith in One's Craft', in which the author directly addresses the reader -- and where:
In my desire to disregard conventions, I only fear I may be falling into a trap, that is, writing within another convention, previous to the first ones. If that is true, I beg you indulgence, given that the page must never be left blank. But that may not actually be convention.
       Jewish identity is a prominent feature of many of the stories, whether the characters are immigrants trying to start a new life, or victims such as the title-character in 'Johny Golem'. Often it is the perception of others -- how the protagonists are seen -- that is central, as in 'The Prayer' or 'Lisbon by Night' . Even so, Rawet's concerns seem even more fundamental than that specific identity or past, the isolation he shows a part of the human and not just Jewish condition.
       In 'Parable on the Son and the Fable' Rawet amusingly shows tales meant to teach specific lessons repeatedly being taken the 'wrong' way by a child, leading the father finally to say: "Son, if you want to live, forget about fables !" And Rawet, too, seems to have some doubts about stories, or at least their power to enlighten, teach, or preach. Perhaps that is why so many only illustrate a harsh reality (though, ironically, 'Parable on the Son and the Fable' itself does offer that particular moral ...).
       Despite there being so few stories here, on so few pages, the collection is a bit overwhelming. Certainly there's a very talented author at work here, but these stories can be hard to take. In the way they are grim about the very fundamental aspects of humanity, without relying much on descriptions of actual brutality or anything of that sort, they penetrate to the very marrow -- and it's not a pleasant feeling.
       The later stories are a bit lighter -- or at least allow lighter elements in -- but it's still a heavy, bitter pill to swallow. Of considerable interest, but not easy reading -- and it was probably easier to deal with the separate collections than with this small, tight selection.

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The Prophet: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Samuel Rawet was born in Poland in 1929 and emigrated to Brazil with his family when he was seven. He died in 1984.

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© 2007-2009 the complete review

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