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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Landscapes after the Battle

by
Juan Goytisolo


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

To purchase Landscapes after the Battle



Title: Landscapes after the Battle
Author: Juan Goytisolo
Genre: Novel
Written: 1982 (Eng. 1987)
Length: 159 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Landscapes after the Battle - US
Paisajes después de la batalla - US
Landscapes after the Battle - UK
Landscapes after the Battle - Canada
. Paysages après la bataille - France
Landschaften nach der Schlacht - Deutschland
Paisajes después de la batalla - España
  • Spanish title: Paisajes después de la batalla
  • Translated by Helen Lane

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Our Assessment:

A- : creative and clever (though some of the politics now appear somewhat simplistic and dated)

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. A 14/6/1987 Robert Kiely


  From the Reviews:
  • "(B)rilliantly peculiar (.....) (T)he makeshift narrative and indecent humor go beyond the particular claims of individual groups and instead play off their collective unorchestrated clamor, far wilder and crazier and more confused than any deviant novelist could invent. The book seems to keep asking: What are artists to do in the "homestretch" ? " - Robert Kiely, The New York Times Book Review

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:

       Landscapes after the Battle is a short novel, consisting of 78 often fancifully titled chapters. The titles provide some clues -- and warnings -- about where the novel leads. Dialectical Theologism is followed by Democratic Egocentrism. There are chapters offering: a Manifesto, an Appeal to Public Opinion, Basic Instructions for the Creation of an Insurrectional Cell, a Televised Intermezzo, and Revelations Galore. There are Variations on a Theme by Nostradamus and an appeal to Read Marcuse Correctly. One finds Tears for Poland, A Night at the Opera, and the promise of Geometrical Progression -- and much more.
       It is a political novel; most of Goytisolo's work is -- but it is also decidedly literary. (It is also a novel first published in 1982, in a very different political climate both in France (where it is set) and the world generally.)
       Goytisolo began stretching the fictional form long before he wrote this novel, but he flexes his literary muscles in particularly ingenious ways here. The contortions don't always work, but it is still a neat text he has fashioned.
       Goytisolo plays games, and he begins this book with one of his best: the citizens of La Sentier in Paris wake up one day to find that all the writing around them -- roadsigns, billboards, even the local McDonald's sign -- is no longer in the familiar Latin alphabet, but has been replaced by an indecipherable Arabic scrawl. The slow transformation of the district under the steady inflow of immigrants has overnight taken complete hold, the foreigners and foreign culture wiping out the familiar, leaving only "Babelic confusion". The locals have become strangers in their own strange land.
       Goytisolo's characters do not easily fit in society in any case, and modern society does not make it any easier for them. The main hero/protagonist is recognizable in his trench-coat, a pedophile who dreams of seducing young girls in imitation of Lewis Carroll -- or possibly only wishes such a life. Identity is not clear or fixed, the characters remaining decidedly indistinct, shifting their foci, interests, needs, ambitions, desires. There are first-person accounts throughout the novel as well, of outsiders making their case -- so one Appeal to Public Opinion by a character whose predilection involves pleasuring canines, an act frowned upon by the dog-owners and the public alike.
       A musician possesses the "capital virtue" of knowing how to keep his mouth shut, a virtue he takes to extremes:

Day after day, year after year, he practiced the violin without the bow ever touching the strings, remained seated at his piano with his arms resolutely folded.
       The impossibility of communication is a constant throughout the novel (its form itself questioning the possibility of communication), ranging from this maestro who repudiates music to the locals in Le Sentier, suddenly illiterate because their language has been displaced, to the husband who communicates with his wife only by slipping (almost illegible) notes under her door.
       In one chapter the narrator sees himself as the "sole representative and witness" of his culture, which has been wiped off the face of the earth. He finds himself surrounded by "the sole representatives of other cultures likewise totally destroyed by the catastrophe".
We greet each other with a polite nod but are not permitted to speak to each other -- indeed, in what language would we do so ? -- by express order of the nurses.
       Communication is an impossibility, each writer is an island -- and yet still Goytisolo emphasizes it even further by placing an explicit prohibition on any attempt at communication beyond empty nods of greeting.
       This character tries to preserve "the memory of what has been" -- in this case, all aspects of a civilization wiped out long ago. Goytisolo sees his own task similarly. To his credit his efforts at preservation try to be all-encompassing; it is one of the reasons for his many varied approaches. Throughout, however, there is an ambivalence regarding what is worth preserving: he is less interested in "the elegant, refined, artistic milieux that so fascinate the novelistic heroes of Carpentier or Cortázar". Goytisolo -- "our misanthropic subject" -- "traverses spaces with no literary past whatsoever":
What appeals to him -- and suits his lamentably vulgar tastes -- is the allogenic, postcolonial, barbarized Paris of Belleville or Barbès, a Paris that has nothing cosmopolitan or cultivated about it, but on the contrary is uncouthly foreign and illiterate.
       Only near the end is there a warning, superfluous by this time: "Reader, beware, the narrator is not trustworthy." Goytisolo offers reasons, hints, explanations about what has been stated so far, but the whole is meant to be self-defeating: "every one of his revelations about his life is booby-trapped". Nothing should be taken at face value, he suggests -- something of a relief given some of the sexual and other excesses.
       The literary games are meant to distract, and yet ultimately they also come together, in that picture of the society Goytisolo is trying to preserve. One of the stories continued throughout the novel involves the lost people of Oteka, "exterminated by Tartar hordes" centuries ago. They have been completely forgotten, but the Secret Commandos Against Oteka Genocide have taken up the cause, a senseless absurdity in our times. Goytisolo suggests that much of what he describes here in paining his picture of contemporary society is similarly absurd. With his various storylines, as well as adverts for atomic bunkers, an amusing idea about a film about the Unknown Soldier, and a broad picture of changing Parisian life he still comes quite close to presenting a convincing snapshot of modern Paris anno 1980.
       One danger is Goytisolo's own isolation. He delves and revels in the illiterate (and un-literary) underbelly of modern life, but he also admits living in a sort of isolation as a writer. The imagination still counts for more than the reality, always separating him from his subject. The most telling admission comes when he writes:
To examine the map of the métro system is to yield to memory, to escape, to delirium; to accept utopia, fiction, fable: to visit the monuments, the abominations, the horrors of the city, one's own monuments, abominations, and horrors, without ever having to leave home.
       Elsewhere he proposes The Temple of the Muses, finding the isolated chamber of the public toilet stall the ideal workspace for aspiring writers (and suggesting that "a long row of these inspiring little stalls" would be the "ideal arrangement for the creative-writing workshops that abound in American universities"). As much as he wishes it, he can not escape his own skin as a distinctly literary creature, apart from the world he wants to capture.

       Landscapes after the Battle is a very entertaining novel, and a clever one. Goytisolo does a great deal here, and most of it he does very well. Parts of the book are curiously dated now: not everything changed in the way Goytisolo seems to have expected. With the coalescing of the European Union and the fall of the Soviet bloc many of the issues must now be framed differently -- both the landscapes and the "battle" have changed. Nevertheless, Landscapes after the Battle is a fine, fun read and certainly recommended.

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Links:

Reviews: Juan Goytisolo: Other books by Goytisolo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Juan Goytisolo, born in Barcelona January 5, 1931, has lived in voluntary exile since 1956, mainly in Paris and Morocco. He is the author of numerous highly regarded novels.

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