Tag Archives: Aharon Appelfeld

Lorri’s Review: Until the Dawn’s Light

until the dawns light Until the Dawn’s Light, by Aharon Appelfeld is a book that takes place before World War II. As always, his books elicit emotions within me, due to his defining word-imagery.

Of course, as a reader, I know the Holocaust will occur, but within the pages of the book, there is an underlying feeling, a foreshadowing, that something extremely horrendous is going to set itself against humanity, something brutal.

Speaking of brutal, this is the first book of Appelfeld’s I have read that encapsulates spousal abuse. And, he not only encapsulates it, but describes it with vivid and painful portraits.

The book begins on a train ride with protagonist Blanca taking flight with her four-year old son. Her fleeing holds more than just wanting to escape her husband, she is fleeing for her son’s safety, and hopes to make it safely to a northern town in Austria which she feels holds the morals, ideals and convictions of her ancestral past. She is wanting to return to the foundations of Judaism that her parents avoided.

Blanca was brought up in an environment of non-practicing Jews. She is a young Jewish woman, and a convert to Christianity. She has converted in order to marry a man named Adolph, who, despite is initial appearance is antisemitic (after reading several pages, I did not find it coincidental that Appelfeld named him Adolph). Her family sees this as a positive step, and one that will yield acceptance within the Christian community. Things are not always what we expect, though, as the book details.

Adolph despises the Jews, and never lets Blanca forget it. He blames everything on his life situation on the Jews, but worse than that, he constantly abuses her, physically, mentally and emotionally. The abuse is horrific.

Blanca is meek, and gives in to every brutal beating. She is essentially a slave to his every whim, every abusive word and every abusive act forced upon her, until the day she leaves with her son.

On the train ride she thinks back to the past, the days of happiness, the days of horror, and writes of issues that have caused her to run. She verbalizes to her son the fact that she wants him to save the pages, save them and read them at a later time, when he is old enough to read and understand. That is another foreshadowing of the ending, which this reader grasped upon immediately beginning the book. That played no part in my continuing to read the book.

Until the Dawn’s Light is not a happy read, but one that is depressing due to the content. There is much to ponder within the compelling pages, such as the primary issue of spousal abuse and how it causes fear in the abused, fear so strong they don’t fight back or cry out for help. Fear that keeps the victim oppressed and in internal prisons that are difficult to fathom.

Other relevant issues such as conversion and acceptance are a constant within the pages. The community of Christians was not the safe hold Blanca thought it would be, and the hatred and resentment of the Jews was quite clearly stated. Antisemitism was a major factor within the citizens.

Blanca had so much going for her, she was extremely intelligent and headed for university. She was a math wizard and had hopes of becoming a mathematician. The day she meets Adolph and begins tutoring him, was the beginning of the end for her. She fell for him, which is no surprise due to his superficial presentation of himself to her in order to gain favor.

Aharon Appelfeld’s Until the Dawn’s Light, is aptly titled. His writing is brilliant within the darkness of the story line. He illuminates the past and how it can lead to the decisions of the present. He vividly relays how dismissal of Jewish identity, and the resulting experiences of assimilation can lead one back to the religion they left behind. I recommend Until the Dawn’s Light to everyone. It is thought=provoking and compelling, and offers a lot to consider in the realm of events preceding World War II.

January 14, 2013 – 3 Sh’vat, 5773

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fiction, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Novels

Jewaicious Review: The Iron Tracks

The Iron Tracks, by Aharon Appelfeld, is a difficult book to write about. It is a slow-moving read, yet an intense one. It moves along the tracks of time, taking the reader through Siegelbaum’s emotional conflicts. He and his parents were laborers in a Nazi camp, and that is where his parents were killed.

It is forty years later, and we see that Siegelbaum’s life has been focused on riding the trains, back and forth, each year, making the same journey, circling the same route. He has become well known during that time, as he travels through cities, small villages, stopping at the same towns and cities, where he has made acquaintances, and where he feels a sense of tranquility, often in the small rooms that have the bathtubs that he likes to soak in for hours.

As we begin the story, time and place have moved forward four decades. As he travels closer to specific cities and towns on the train, he reflects on his life, remembering past years in those specific places. Time stands still, momentarily as he remembers the women he lusted with, the men he made small talk with, and those who he finds a sense of friendship with.

Siegelbaum admits that rail travel is his life, and that he feels a strange comfort within a train car, and in the buffets at the stations he gets off at. He is able to travel so frequently because he is a merchant of sorts, buying Judaic antiquities in the cities and towns he travels through. He then sells them to collectors. He has become adept at locating the antiquities, Jewish treasures, from menorahs to kiddish cups, to illuminated manuscripts and scrolls. The money received from the sales affords him the ability to travel.

The one thing that keeps him going during his travels is his search for Nachtigel, the man who killed his parents. He is impassioned with finding him and killing him. Does he manage to do so? You will have to read the book to find the answer.

I found it bizarre that he treats the treasures he finds with loving care, yet he is determined to commit an act of murder. He handles the Judaic findings with love and awe, and is dedicated to preserving the items, making sure they go to collectors who will appreciate them. It is his manner of treasuring and memorializing those who were killed. He is not a practicing Jew, but is determined to preserve what little remains of the Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.

Appelfeld manages with brilliance to capture the emotion that Siegelbaum stifles within himself. He is consumed by nightmares, has difficulty sleeping. He is also filled with melancholy, stemming from not only the loss of his parents, but also his lifestyle. His travels manage to find him speaking to individuals who condone the Holocaust and murder of Jews. This has an extreme impact on his psyche and his mindset. He is cognizant of the fact he is depressed, and realizes his mode of living has enhanced his melancholy, yet he is focused on finding Nachtigel.

Within that focus are concerns he has regarding the moment he finds him. Appelfeld is astute, having been a Holocaust survivor, himself. He knows and understands the wave of emotions that weave a roller coaster ride with the mind and the heart. His insightful prose is not only beautiful, but also bleak, as the story unfolds. Questions arise in the reader, such as justice, and whether it is okay, to murder someone for deeds they have done four decades earlier (considering they have no affiliation with the justice or legal system)? Is the revenge going to be sweet, fulfilling or even freeing? Siegelbaum, himself, has no answers to those questions, yet is still intent on finding Nachtigel and killing him.

Appelfeld uses Siegelbaum’s relationships, ones that last at most for a couple of days, as metaphors for his lack of emotional attachment with women. He is stifled, unable to form a lasting and romantic involvement. He admits that is not what he wants out of a woman. His passions lie elsewhere, such as his finding Nachtigel, and finding and preserving Judaic treasures. The vivid imagery is strong and compelling within the pages of The Iron Tracks, even though it is not a quick read.

Aharon Appelfeld has a story to tell, and he tells it with magnificent prose and imagery. The emotional impact is not light and airy, but one that is often disturbing. It is an intense study in one man’s thought process, emotions (or lack of), and passions. I recommend it to everyone.

January 7, 2012 – 12 Tevet, 5772

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Holocaust/Genocide, Judaism, Novels

Jewaicious – Books and Articles

Until the Dawn’s Light is Aharon Appelfeld’s new novel.  I will definitely purchase it, as I am an avid fan of Appelfeld’s work.

Israeli author Aharon Appelfeld, one of the foremost chroniclers of Jewish suffering through fiction, and one of the few Holocaust survivors still writing at all, is less interested in sequential cause and effect, in plot and resolution, than he is in exploring the tragedy of the human condition.   Shoshana Oldidort, The Jewish Daily Forward

The wisdom Steve Jobs had for Aaron Sorkin is an interesting article, written by Danielle Berrin’s blog , Hollywood Jew.

Berrin has also written a thought-provoking article in her blog, entitled A Jewish meditation on the death of Steve Jobs.

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Filed under Historical Fiction, Holocaust/Genocide, Judaism, Novels