PAST PERFECT by Yaakov Shabtai


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Meir is an Israeli engineer living in Tel Aviv, suffering from a newly diagnosed case of high blood pressure. He's alarmed, of course--but so is he by everything else: his own infidelities, his ennui, his inability to center himself within in his life (as his best friends seem to be able to do). Then, without much warning, his mother dies. Meir on the surface is untouched--but mortality's breath is closer all of a sudden; and he undertakes a journey (in unspoken confirmation of his mother's last great wish, to see Gibraltar). Meir, alone, without his wife, goes to Amsterdam, then London, and in these solo-traveler sections, Shabtai (Past Continuous, 1985)--who tragically died in 1981 shortly after substantially finishing the present book--and his skeining, winding, eddying prose make indelible fiction. Meir, who's in fact having a terrible time in Amsterdam, returns to his hotel room at night and reads the tourist brochures--and then his heart swells with excitement and pleasure at being where he is. Psychologically, the scenes are astonishingly acute: the sense of secondhand enjoyment but firsthand misery. And when, in London, Meir suffers a death-mimicking anxiety attack--utterly terrifying--his place on earth seems even more fragiley mortgaged. In these sections precisely, the book approaches a classic--and, superbly translated by Bilu, is testament to a major loss to world literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14th, 1987
Publisher: Viking