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On a lighter note there is the description of Moses’s hearing aids, which, when inserted, “emit a brief tune — as if to say, At your service — and immediately amplify the hubbub of the surrounding world.” The batteries, when they begin to wear out, give off an “insistent continuous ring that can’t be ignored,” and that seems, oh, so very Israeli.
Such evocative descriptions of the seemingly banal fit right in with the character at the center of the novel, who has drawn criticism for the supremacy of materialism in his later films. Moses defends his choice, saying it is motivated by a desire “to combat forgetfulness through the staying power of materialism.”
Of course, forgetfulness eludes the director, who hails from a country that is, as his Spanish host reminds him, “always remembering the forgotten.”
When the audience questions the necessity of overt violence in one of his films, Moses counters that for Israelis, “absurdity and surrealism are second nature.” Thus, the necessity of “a shot of violence, an overdose of imagination, because only then can art be distinguished from the absurd reality.”
Even Ruth’s assertion — referring to her loss of faith in the power of sleep — that “what dies doesn’t come back to life” seems to be addressing the state of affairs in the Jewish state. Through his characters, the author gives voice to his own doubts about the future of Israel now that “history has debunked the illusion of peace.”
And yet it would be a gross oversimplification to read “The Retrospective” as primarily a metaphor about an enduring national crisis. Indeed, Yehoshua’s genius is his ability to craft stories that combine deeply resonant personal and national narratives. These are not mere literary devices, but authentic, self-contained stories that merge beautifully in the author’s thoughtful rendering.
In “The Retrospective,” Yehoshua evokes the complexities of growing old — for men and women, and for a country that is no longer fledgling — and the entrapments of regrets and broken memories that make it hard to part “from what might have been but was not.” Reflecting on the trajectory of his art and his life, Moses notes that “the end is always a compromise between what was and what will never be.”
Shoshana Olidort is a frequent contributor to the Forward. Her work has also appeared in The New Republic.