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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Juan Emar

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To purchase Yesterday

Title: Yesterday
Author: Juan Emar
Genre: Novel
Written: 1935 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 143 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Yesterday - US
Ayer - US
Yesterday - UK
Yesterday - Canada
Ayer - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Spanish title: Ayer
  • Translated by Megan McDowell
  • With an Introduction) by Alejandro Zambra

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Our Assessment:

B+ : neatly spun out and presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Literary Review . 7/2021 Michael Eaude
Publishers Weekly . 3/2/2022 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "This arresting story is a great place to start, and it will leave readers wanting to see more of the author's odd obsessions." - 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:

       Yesterday is, at its most basic, a day-in-the-life account, the narrator describing what he and his wife Isabel experienced the day before. It was certainly an eventful day -- beginning with nothing less than a public execution -- though much of the time the narrator seems to have moved through it rather casually.
       The narrator spins quite a bit into and around the various episodes he relates. So, for example, the opening scene -- when he sees: "at long last the spectacle I had so yearned to see: a beheading" -- has the narrator relate at some length what led to the condemned man's fate (as he was tried in two separate courts for what is considered his crime before being sentenced) before he describes the actual execution. Other stations that day include a visit to the zoo, where, among other things, husband and wife witness a lion and an ostrich facing off; a stop at a painter's (too-green) studio; the close observation of a pot-bellied man ("my will has ordered me: 'Observe him, delimit him, know him'"); a visit to the family home where the narrator's parents and siblings (and the Uruguayan consul) have been enjoying themselves and place bets as to whether or not the narrator will take up a simple(-seeming) challenge; as well as several meals the couple have along the way, the narrator listing what each of them order.
       Midway through, the narrator discusses what they've done so far with his wife, observing:

Me: It strikes me that the day up to now has been quite empty.
Her: No. I've found it fairly intense.
Me: In sensations, perhaps. But what conclusions have we drawn from the day ?
       This sense of dissatisfaction lingers, but as the day progresses it, and the experiences they've had -- "the parade of yesterday's events" -- swirl increasingly together in a spiral of reflection and review. What had started out as a step by step recollection of events unfolding comes together, in his mind, as timeless: freed from time: he comes to see: "all the events of the day, isolated and clear, free of chronological order". He finds:
     An unreal sequentiality ! Yes, that's it. I now know that's how it is.
     I saw all of yesterday's events for what they were, what they are. I saw what it was that had previously made me see them as being shelled. That's it: shelled like peas into a full container. No. They had always been, they are, without what's within.
       With the help of his wife he can, ultimately, contain himself again, allowing for the day to come to a quieter everyday end (and leading to the following day, when he chronicles this yesterday that almost got out of hand).
       Yesterday seems straightforward enough at first, but already the extremes of some of the situations -- the story of the condemned man; the happenings at the zoo -- tend towards the surreal and absurd. But the narrator's voice remains controlled and sure, and if the experiences he describes seem somewhat unusual, only odds and ends perturb him. As the day wears on, however, he loses more and more of his hold. Emar's presentation, following a and focused on chronology, is a neat variation on this idea, ultimately drawing the narrator into a dizzying loop in which the mileposts, as it were, -- the events of the day -- remain recognizable even as it all tends towards a kind of blur.
       It's a creative spin, and well-executed -- and, with the episodes themselves also engaging, makes for an appealing read, a curious but quite satisfying novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 May 2022

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Yesterday: Reviews: Juan Emar: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chilean author Juan Emar (ctually: Álvaro Yáñez Bianchi) lived 1893 to1964.

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© 2022 the complete review

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