Page 106 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
WOMANHOOD AND THE ELEMENTAL
A recurring motif in Appelfeld’s work is the theme o f the sea
and the period of time after the war when the refugees waited on
the Italian shore to go to Israel and America. The smuggling o f
people and goods, the hoarding, the confusion, the black market,
the catatonic card-playing activity reflect a non-heroic vision o f
the survivors. But at the same time there is also the cleansing
quality man seeks in the sea. After the years o f death and degra­
dation there are distances promised, freedom and sensuality, the
reawakening.
In “Bartofus,” the sea combines with another o f Appelfeld’s
motifs, that of emerging womanhood, sensuality, the primal dif­
ferences between man and woman. Man is active, a “doer,” the
instrument o f civilization, business, education, which is more of­
ten than not, suspect in Appelfeld’s eyes. Woman, on the other
hand, represents the passive, feeling-quality of life. Bartofus’
wife Rosa is initially “found among the many confused refugees,
among the huts and the water. . . . Tha t summer made peple
dull, heavy and hungry for the sea. He said ‘Come’ and she went
after him. And so it was the next day. She d idn’t demand any­
thing . . . Her body was full and young, and it gave off the smell
of the sea and cheap cologne. . . . The sun on the shore was
illusory, wrapped them as if in sleep. Everything happened un ­
der a heavy bell. . . . Hours she would sit facing the water. He
knew he could always find her by the sea.” Rosa emerges from
this primal stupor, reawakening after the long war when she be­
comes pregnant. Then the domesticating, civilizing quality of
family responsibility, that which is the feminine aspect o f civiliza­
tion asserts itself. Rosa begins to bring pictures to hang up in her
hut on the shore. Bartofus would like to flee but is enmeshed and
spends the rest of his life hating her.
In much of Appelfeld’s work the Holocaust is a touchstone of
primal existence, the dreadful material reveals archetypal man.
Many o f Appelfeld’s stories then deal with the emergence from
this basic state into reestablishing civilization, community, family.
Often the lifestyles that are created are perverted and twisted. In
contrast to this, Appelfeld has written a moving parable,
Tzili:
The Story o f a Life,
a novelette recently published in English, which
portrays the emergence o f a simple young woman from the ani­
mal state of the Holocaust into civilization. It is not insignificant
that the protagonist o f this positive portrayal is a woman, for