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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Retrospective

by
A.B.Yehoshua


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

To purchase The Retrospective



Title: The Retrospective
Author: A.B.Yehoshua
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 336 pages
Original in: Hebrew
Availability: The Retrospective - US
The Retrospective - UK
The Retrospective - Canada
The Retrospective - India
Rétrospective - France
La scena perduta - Italia
  • Hebrew title: חסד ספרדי
  • Translated by Stuart Schoffman

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Our Assessment:

B : solid if drawn-out reflective work

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Figaro . 22/11/2012 Bruno Corty
Haaretz D 17/2/2011 Avraham Balaban
Haaretz . 6/2/2013 Akin Ajayi
The NY Times Book Rev. . 31/3/2013 Robert Pinsky
Publishers Weekly . 14/1/2013 .
Wall Street Journal . 2/3/2013 Sam Sacks


  From the Reviews:
  • "En s'identifiant au vieux créateur, Yehoshua ne se donne pas le meilleur rôle mais comme homme et comme créateur, il pose les questions essentielles: qui écrit le film de nos vies? Dieu, les hommes, le hasard? Rétrospective est une histoire forte, émouvante, qui parle de la fuite du temps, de nostalgie, de la perte des amis et des amours, de la création artistique tantôt consolatrice, tantôt destructrice." - Bruno Corty, Le Figaro

  • "As they contemplate these hundreds of pages, Yehoshua's veteran readers will wonder where the old, enthralling Yehoshua has gone, and may think his creativity, amused inventiveness and sharp diagnosis of human character appear to be lost. Yet readers who do manage to trudge through will be compensated by the book's final chapter, in which Yehoshua returns to himself, and we again encounter his narrative joyfulness and creative inventiveness. This last chapter does not turn the novel into a literary achievement, but it at least prevents it from being a total failure. (...) Here and there, 'Spanish Charity' features penetrating, original descriptions and phrases. (...) Such descriptions, however, turn up too infrequently in this novel. Instead, there are far too many banal phrases and descriptions that rely on everyday, media-inflected Hebrew." - Avraham Balaban, Haaretz

  • "No one would accuse Yehoshua of suffering from an economy of words, and this lack of concision sometimes imposes a digressive weight on his work. But The Retrospective is crafted, on the whole, with an engaging restraint, an acute portrait of Mosesí crisis of confidence, evoked through inference and suggestion. (...) While The Retrospective is intelligent, sensitive fiction, one cannot help but think that Yehoshua gets a little carried away at times. (...) In his inimitable style, Yehoshua crafts a powerful and engaging allegory of modern Israeli Jewish identity." - Akin Ajayi, Haartez

  • "Spain provides its resolution by deploying a classic Spanish narrative in a formal surprise that is both playful and grave. (...) Here Yehoshua is concerned with the inadequacies in our quotidian sense of history, our inability to comprehend its violent grandeur." - Robert Pinsky, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(T)houghtful but plodding (.....) Some sentences are daunting in length and indicate the self-indulgence of the work as a whole. The authorís insights into realism and surrealism, religiousness and secularism, and the creative process deserve greater exploration." - Publishers Weekly

  • "he Retrospective is indeed formally realist -- the films at the festival, and even the meals between the screenings, are elegantly but minutely described, at times to a dulling extent. But at its conclusion, when Moses ventures a reconciliation with Trigano, the novel gets a needed burst of inspiration." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

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 Retrospective centers around Israeli film-director Yair Moses, with the first half of the neatly divided novel set in Santiago de Compostela in Spain, where he is honored with a retrospective of his works, and the second then back in Israel, when he returns.
       Appropriately, the retrospective is devoted to his early works -- the first half of his career -- which differ markedly from his more recent films. As someone observes:

It seems to us, Mr. Moses, that in the past two decades you have turned your back on the surrealistic and symbolic style of your early films and have become addicted to extreme realism that is almost naturalistic.
       This late-period novel -- yes, Moses clearly is a stand-in of sorts for author Yehoshua -- is also (largely) a work of almost painstakingly extreme realism, and Moses offers a solid defense of the approach. But in its descriptions of the films that are screened at the retrospective, the surrealistic and symbolic earlier approach is also presented in considerable detail.
       The demarcation point, the switch from one style to another, came decades earlier, when Moses split with his collaborator (and former student -- Moses used to be a high school teacher), Shaul Trigano. It was Trigano that was the creative force behind the first films, the screenwriter and visionary -- but their collaboration also was successful because Moses clearly had a talent for direction and for capturing Trigano's visions on film. The break came when Moses deviated from a script, undermining Trigano's vision; complicating matters, the scene involved Trigano's longtime girlfriend, Ruth -- and the betrayal of Trigano's script also ruined that relationship, Ruth switching sides completely and embracing Moses -- with whom she is still in a relationship; indeed, she is his companion on the trip to Spain.
       The break between the two collaborators was complete; "Moses still feels the stump of amputation", though he did manage to find greater (or at least more lucrative) success with his later films. Trigano, on the other hand, largely faded from the scene, never able to build on those early artistic successes.
       Moses is reminded of their bitter break even before the retrospective starts, as a painting -- Matthias Meyvogel's Caritas Romana -- hangs in his hotel room, a reminder of that contested scene that he (ostensibly for Ruth's sake) refused to film. It's hard to believe that any hotel would hang such a painting in a guest room (though an explanation for that is eventually revealed), and it certainly is a striking image; it's also an image that, as Moses continues to ponder it and what happened so many years earlier, dominates the book. (Oddly, the English-language publishers of the novel did not (unlike the Israeli publisher) choose to use it for the cover-illustration -- perhaps because it is too memorable an image.)
       The first half of the novel describes, in fairly close detail, the retrospective -- complete with descriptions of the screened films, dubbed in Spanish and often cloudy in Moses' (and Ruth's) memories. In the second half Moses seeks out Trigano again, trying to connect with the still very bitter man -- Moses motivated, in large part, by his concern for Ruth.
       Trigano certainly holds more than just a grudge. Married with three children, he believes the consequences of Moses' betrayal to have been far more far-reaching than Moses could have ever imagined -- and he also claims, to underline yet again their yin and yang relationship:
You know and remember that everything that you think is absurd, I think has value and meaning.
       Already while at the retrospective Moses wondered about all this:
the director cannot shake off the suspicion that this retrospective was engineered by Trigano to compel him to defend the writer's fantasies.
       His instincts aren't completely wrong, and the novel is, in part, also a clash of these two approaches, Trigano's idealized (and completely uncompromising) artistic vision in conflict with Moses' much more down-to-earth realism. These two are forced into confrontation, first via the screen, where Moses faces his past, and then in person.
       The Retrospective is a novel full of slow, careful reflection. Eventually, the narrative also shifts, for one chapter -- the conversation between Trigano and Moses --, from the omniscient third person to the far more immediate second person (with Moses the 'you' being addressed). Like the painting which so much of the narrative lingers over for so long, The Retrospective is a rich, detailed canvas, but one which in its tight focus also forces itself upon the reader, who often might want to turn away.
       It is a practiced novelist's hand at work here, as the narrative is also subtly but expertly textured, from Moses' concern about Ruth's well-being (and how to deal with it) to his encounters with his former wife and with his daughter. Yet even as Yehoshua seems to do most of the things right here, a fundamental discomfort remains, as it doesn't entirely all fit together. There's a feeling of him nearly getting it right, but the whole nevertheless just being slightly off.
       Still, it's an interesting work, and quite accomplished.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 February 2013

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Links:

The Retrospective: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Israeli author A.B.Yehoshua (א.ב. יהושע‎) was born in 1936.

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© 2013 the complete review

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