One year after buying Aharon Appelfeld's books at Webster's in State College (PA), the leisure presented itself to read, absorb and digest all three like small morsels of dried biscuits after a hunger strike, not necessarily palatable but a necessity.
Translated from Hebrew into English, they read like school books, peppered with repetitions, simplifications and a staccato pitch. That is until the final pages, where often other books falter, Appelfeld's books take on a stark reality, an unspeakable shattering climax that leave you helplessly enthralled
In To the Land of the Cattails, we encounter a woman and her adolescent son traveling from Austria to Ruthenia by horse and carriage. Throughout the book, the voice of the unnamed son alternately speaks lovingly and reproachfully about his mother, determined to reach home, the village of her parents. Separated hours before reaching their destination, the mother vanishes. Was she rounded up in the countryside? The son, together with another lost soul, search for the missing woman. In despair they arrive at the symbolic railroad station where they await their fate.
Badenheim 1939, perhaps Appelfeld's best known novel outside of Israel, is set in a resort town, not far from Vienna, and populated by a group of mostly unattached vacationers who have come for the music, the good food and each other's company.
During the spring and summer months, town liberties shrink, registration becomes a requirement, and supplies and communication beyond the town disappear. With the coffers bare and psychological disturbances prevailing, the villagers and vacationers, alike, quietly walk to yet another railroad station. Symptomatic of the characters failure to understand the patterns in the changing seasons as more than weather, the main character observes as the group boards the train, "if we were going far the railway cars would be cleaner."
Lastly, For Every Sin, a stark parabolic, without nuance, introduces us to Theo, a young man wandering through the Ukraine seeking the correct footfalls home, again to Vienna. Alienated and alienating, the youth finally gives up his idea fixe, settles on a refugee's bundle and falls asleep.
After reading these three novels, I was hungry to learn more about the writer and discovered one or two good reviews here and here of the author's memoir, The Story of a Life and an interview with the author when he sojourned in the States.
Fortuitously, a friend from Israel called on Sunday and we had an opportunity to discuss the books, Appelfeld's work and share our individual responses to his writing. The conversation brought me some satisfaction: the translations are accurate, the mood of the writing riveting and the author acclaimed in his adoptive country.
I shall see if I can get Appelfeld's latest book, All Whom I Have Loved, reviewed here, from the library.