● The Retrospective
By A.B. Yehoshua Translated from the Hebrew by Stuart Schoffman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 336 pages, $26
In A.B. Yehoshua’s latest novel, an aging Israeli film director is invited to Spain for a retrospective of his life’s work. The trip engenders a kind of journey backward in time for the director, Mr. Moses, who revisits, first in his mind and later in reality, the people, places and experiences that helped shape the artist and person he has become.
Yehoshua is one of Israel’s most highly acclaimed writers, and “The Retrospective” showcases the author at his finest. He offers a compelling study of character, and a powerful meditation on personal pain and loss, memory, regret, and atonement.
And as is the case with much of Yehoshua’s oeuvre — a survey of which constitutes the subtext of this novel — this work is also a carefully observed portrait of a country in a perpetual state of conflict.
At the center of the novel is a decades-old quarrel between Moses and his former student-turned-screenwriter. Though the two have not spoken in 40 years, the Spanish retrospective — and a particular painting that hangs in the hotel room that Moses shares with his lead actress, Ruth — triggers memories that leave the elderly director haunted by the break, and searching for a way to reconcile himself with his past.
Moses’s need for closure mirrors the national longing for peace, and these parallels between the personal and the collective reverberate throughout the novel.
Describing a scene in the Spanish hotel where Moses and Ruth share a bed, the narrator notes that a sleeping Ruth “instinctively occupies part of the vacated territory.”
And in conversation with Ruth about one of their earliest films, in which the people of a small Israeli village carry out a terrible act of violence, Moses observes that her performance suggests she believed that “disasters are a good means of true communion among people.”