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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Missing Year
of Juan Salvatierra

Pedro Mairal

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To purchase The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra

Title: The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra
Author: Pedro Mairal
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 116 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra - US
Salvatierra - US (Spanish)
The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra - Canada
Salvatierra - France
Das fehlende Jahr des Juan Salvatierra - Deutschland
Salvatierra - Italia
Salvatierra - España
  • Spanish title: Salvatierra
  • Translated by Nick Caistor

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El País . 16/10/2010 J. Ernesto Ayala-Dip
Publishers Weekly . 22/7/2013 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Todas son escenas vívidas. Y a la vez reveladoras de un hombre distinto al que conocían. O desconocían. Mairal crea un espacio narrativo distinto al que exigía su historia. El espacio literario que no espera el lector. Los rollos pictóricos, llenos de incógnitas, son las páginas que se leen. Son la historia familiar de Salvatierra y su historia secreta. Mairal hace de pronto que su escritura desaparezca de nuestro foco de atención." - J. Ernesto Ayala-Dip, El País

  • "On whole this enigmatic novel delights in its understated style, even though the narrator feels slightly beyond reach." - Publishers Weekly

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 Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra is a slim novella -- 39 chapters covering just 116 pages -- but Mairal immediately grabs the reader with an appealing hook and then circles nicely round and round, through past and present. The story is narrated by Miguel Salvatierra, and begins with his brief description of the centerpiece of the novel: his dead father Juan's painting, a four-kilometer-long roll of images that unspools daily at the Röell Museum in Amsterdam, a work that was sixty years in the making.
       The heart of the narrative deals with Miguel and his brother Luis trying to figure out what to do with their father's great work, stored in a shed in the Argentine town of Barrancales. There are more than sixty heavy rolls stored in the shed, each covering the span of a year, the near-endless painted image seamlessly continuing from one roll to the next. The brothers make arrangements with the Röell Museum who want to purchase the canvas(es), and two representatives come to document it, scanning the entire length of the picture. As it turns out, one of the rolls -- covering the year 1961 -- is missing, and Miguel decides to try and find it.
       Alongside these events, Miguel fills in some of the background, describing the painting with its scenes-from-a-life, and also describing Juan Salvatierra, mute since his teens, employed at the postal office, but dedicated to his painting: the mile-long canvas was truly his life's work -- and, in capturing so much of his life, also a representation of it ("a kind of intimate diary, an illustrated autobiography").
       Miguel suggests about his father that:

Possibly because he was mute, he needed to tell himself his own story.
       Recounted in a fairly straightforward manner, The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra slowly pieces together Juan's life, and the history of the painting. Meanwhile, Miguel's own life is relatively unexceptional and uneventful -- he has a small, sleepy real estate business; he is divorced -- but dealing with his father's life-work, and trying to solve the mystery of the missing year, leads him to a personal transformation as well, as Miguel turns to writing: just as his father was driven to fill the blank space of the canvas, so he finds he is driven to fill the blank space of the page.
       The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra is full of circularity, and loops repeatedly back even as the whole slowly advances, which is a nice way of presenting the story. Despite the immensity of Juan's creation, it is also an almost understated narrative, emphasizing that even as what Juan did was exceptional, it was also something that was, in a sense, very everyday; Miguel, who has never really done much with his life, proves to be the perfect narrator for this story, striking the perfect tone.
       This is a well-told, poignant story with a fair bit of suspense to go with the interesting (but almost never too forcefully imposed) meditations on life and art -- a surprising lot packed into such a short space. A fine piece of work, and a very nice little read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 July 2013

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The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra: Reviews: Pedro Mairal: Other books by Pedro Mairal under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Pedro Mairal was born in 1970.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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