A.B. Yehoshua Looks Back at His Country and Art

Writing About Growing Old Along With Nation

No Country for Old Men: Yehoshua’s novel evokes the 
complexities of aging both for people and their homelands.
Getty Images
No Country for Old Men: Yehoshua’s novel evokes the complexities of aging both for people and their homelands.

By Shoshana Olidort

Published April 09, 2013, issue of April 12, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

● 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.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.