Page 102 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
APPELFELD’S UNIQUENESS
Aharon Appelfeld shares the lyrical quality o f Yaoz-Kest’s
works and the “remembrance o f things past” o f many Israeli
Holocaust writers, but most of them are what Hanna Yaoz has
labelled “historical” writers. “They a ttem p t to express the
inhuman terro r in a manner that manifests historical develop­
ments . . . the realistic details contributing to the weight o f the
terro r.”7 But there are also, according to Hanna Yaoz, “trans-
historical” Holocaust writers who don ’t attempt to portray the
historical situation but abstract from it the mythic elements in­
herent in it, often the absurdity and madness.8
A ppe lfe ld is such a w riter. In fluenced by the abstract,
ahistorical spirit of modernist literature, and particularly Kafka,
and recognizing the limitations of language to convey the horror,
Appelfeld never deals with the persecution directly. But rather
its presence is felt everywhere, in those fleeing its grasp as well as
those anticipating it before the war and the survivors remem­
bering it after the war. Born in Czernowtiz, Bukovina, in 1932,
Aharon Appelfeld was taken with his family to a concentration
camp from which he managed to escape. Joining up with a band
of refugee children he wandered with them through Europe un ­
til the end o f the war when they made their way to Italy and were
taken from there to Palestine with Youth Aliyah. Although his
stories might be said to have an autobiographical base Appelfeld
denies that he is writing a memoir or chronicling what happened.
His poignant evocations o f the Holocaust do not pretend to be
realistic descriptions. Rather they abstract from the events,
creating metaphors for the terro r and symbolic structures to
catch its essence. Appelfeld does not detail the atrocities, but cre­
ates instead a Kafkaesque atmosphere of pain and deprivation. It
is a world marked by absence. Language contracts and Appelfeld
creates a literary form out of silence and the oblique.
It is perhaps in reaction to the sensationalism of much Holo­
caust literature that Appelfeld’s delicately wrought works have
evoked such positive critical response. The recipient o f the Israel
Prize for Literature in 1983 he has, in the last few years, been
highly acclaimed as translations of his work in English have be­
gun to appear. Hailed as a Holocaust writer — a label he dislikes
7
Hebrew Fiction of the Holocaust
(Hebrew, Tel-Aviv: Eked, 1980), p. 15.
8 Ibid., p. 16.