The Colombian film director, Sergio Cabrera, is in Barcelona for a retrospective of his work. It's a hard time for him: his father, famous actor Fausto Cabrera, has just died; his marriage is in crisis; and his home country has rejected peace agreements that might have ended more than fifty years of war. In the course of a few intense days, as his films are on exhibit, Sergio recalls the events that marked his family's unusual and dramatic lives: especially his father's, his sister Marianella's and his own.
Eloquently translated ... Cabrera’s life, one quickly realizes, covers a wide and rich canvas ... Vásquez recorded more than thirty hours of conversation with Cabrera over the course of seven years, and has distilled the filmmaker’s memories into a meaningful narrative ... Any novel balances summary and scene, telling and showing, but this is a novel largely of telling, because there is much to impart.
Given the richness of the source material it’s disappointing that large parts of Cabrera’s life story really drag ... Although Vásquez does invent some dialogue for his real-life characters, we are never fully inside their consciousnesses: the events of their lives, both large and small, flicker and glow at a historical remove, as though we are watching a magic lantern show ... Retrospective is a dogged and conscientious account of a family whose lives have been bound up in some of Europe’s key historical moments, but it lacks the pliancy and texture of, say, Keggie Carew’s moving and compelling story of her extraordinary father, Dadland, which was rightly billed as memoir. While undoubtedly an achievement in its ordering of history, is Retrospective a novel? Not in my book. A memoir-by-proxy? Yes, perhaps.