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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Netanya

by
Dror Burstein


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Netanya



Title: Netanya
Author: Dror Burstein
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 192 pages
Original in: Hebrew
Availability: Netanya - US
Netanya - UK
Netanya - Canada
Netanya - India
  • Hebrew title: נתניה
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Todd Hasak-Lowy

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely meandering personal reflection

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 7/5/2014 Clive Sinclair


  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) Sebaldian meditation on the cosmos, as seen from a bench in Tel Aviv, encompassing not only the rings of Saturn, but also his childhood in the eponymous resort. The book may bear the stamp of Sebald, but its voice is unquestionably Israeli. (...) Sometimes, notes Burstein, it seems that most of his fellow citizens are living through their own "Little Ice Age", though the book ends on a note of optimism as a beautiful morning light dawns." - Clive Sinclair, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Netanya is as much memoir as 'novel', with Burstein's account a creative one that is firmly rooted in the personal and experience. The outline is simple: one night in July 2009 Burstein wanders out onto the Tel Aviv street he lives on, Smuts Boulevard, lies down on a bench, and stares at the sky; Netanya is essentially an account of what went through his head that long night, expanded on.
       Burstein is overwhelmed by the realization of the fragility of life. The science books he's been reading -- specifically Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee's Rare Earth -- make him aware of just how unlikely our existence, and life on earth, is in the first place, and in what a gentle balance it survives. Scale -- from the vastness of the universe to the number of bacteria in a single drop of water (which can contain as many as there are people on earth, he claims -- which does not appear to be quite right) -- is repeatedly invoked, both as a reminder of how small man is, and how we focus on the familiar scales, without taking into proper account the much larger (and much smaller) ones. So also, among Burstein's preöccupations is Israeli literature and what he sees as one of its fundamental failings, its limited ambit:

Instead of presenting us with the big picture, or at least hinting at it, our literature time and again presents a small picture, a fraudulent picture.
       So too:
In Hebrew literature, land is always either solid ground or property, fenced off and registered with the proper office, it's not rock liquefying at a temperature close to the surface of the sun. Which is all well and good, yet no one writes about plate tectonics, or the Cambrian period, or trilobites. How strange, I said to myself as I lay on the bench, that in Hebrew literature, and this includes the literature of the Hebrew Enlightenment, there isn't even a single trilobite.
       The title of the book refers to the Mediterranean town where Burstein was born and spent his childhood, and Netanya is very much a book of remembrance, Burstein almost overwhelmed by the past flooding back: "I've been attacked by memories, I thought." One reason for his interest in the larger scale is because it seems like something he can more easily come to grips with:
I prefer the prehistoric times described in science books, since they're more concrete for me than my memories of the seventies. This proximate time that is my time, the time of my life, I cannot see. I need to skip around, I need a series of skips, in order to get to my past.
       He does skip around. The memories include those of looking to the stars, as an astronomy teacher was clearly an influential figure on the young Burstein. There was also the family hotel -- its physical collapse fitting in well with the larger theme of the fragility of the world all around -- and memories of family, especially the old grandfather. A few photographs, such as of a Red Cross letter sent by his grandfather's father -- then also described in some detail -- help make the past more real, bits to hold onto.
       Death also haunts Burstein -- less the echoes of the Holocaust, though these are present as well, than two close and very real ones from his childhood. One is the death of his uncle in the 1973 war:
My uncle's death was the comet that struck me at quite an early age in my creation and was most devastating.
       The other was the kidnapping of a young boy that attracted a great deal of attention -- and where it turned out the kidnapper (and murderer -- he killed the boy) was a neighbor whom the young Burstein had been close to:
I'm not certain what effect this incident had on my life, but it's clear to me now that were it not for that event, this book wouldn't have been written.
       Weaving these many stories together, while also repeatedly (re)turning to life in its much larger terms, including the conditions in the universe that allowed for it, Burstein presents an engaging and thoughtful narrative -- zooming in and away, just as when he turns his telescope to the skies, while always aware of the fragile make-up of events and existence.
       The awareness that this is a literary exercise as well is also amusingly integrated into the work, from Burstein's observations about Israeli literature in general to his position in it to the actual act of writing -- including the observation, nicely tied into his big-picture focus on nature:
For years nothing happens, and then, as in the Cambrian explosion approximately half a billion years ago, everything flows, abounds, multiplies. I speak of course about writing as well.
       The book's set-up, of the author lying on a bench on a Tel Aviv street seems a bit forced, but it is fitting: a specific, short time-span -- a single night -- allowed to contain so much timeless exploration, all under the open skies -- that extend endlessly deep into the universe. Burstein's gaze is both close and personal as well as one that looks out into the infinite.
       A fine book of reflection, nicely mixing accounts of the deeply personal and familial with meditations on the biggest, near-timeless expanse of all existence.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 September 2018

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Links:

Netanya: Reviews: Dror Burstein: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Israeli author Dror Burstein (דרור בורשטיין) was born in 1970.

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© 2018 the complete review

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