24 Friday, May 6, 1983
Aharon Appelfeld's 'Mai': No Picnic in the Woods
o'cr 'By JOSEPH COHEN
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
Better known there than
readers familiar with Aha-
ron Appelfeld's Holocaust
novels, it will come as no
surprise that he recently
won Israel's most prestigi-
ous award for literature.
for all occasions
Portable organ available
Adele Miller 353-9566
narrative power is literally
adding a whole new dimen-
sion to the literature of the
Holocaust, and his impact
on the rising generation of
readers who were born after
the tragic event may come
to be greater than that of
any other Holocaust writer.
This is neither to take
anything away from Elie
nor to assume that there
are only two major
writers of Holocaust lit-
erature. It is to suggest
that Wiesel's novels,
cape from it only by probing but saves her life by
which served well their more deeply within it, with obscuring her Jewish
America which is now soar-
purpose in their time to the result that his vision , identity.
ing' and with good reason.
bring home to us through however cogent, is all too
In time, she takes up with
His three novels,
the piercing wail of the narrow, his voice limited in another fugitive, a much
"Badenheim 1939" and
victim in agony the hor- its pitch.
older Jewish male, unbal-
"The Age of Wonders," pub-
rors of the death camps, • Appelfeld has a greater anced and guilt-ridden for
lished by David R. Godine in
may not speak as effec- detachment. Though he is having abandoned his wife
1980 and 1981, and "Tzili:
tively to the rising gener- as much bound to tell his and children to the Nazis.
The Story or a Life" (E. P.
ations as may the novels story as is Wiesel, he has Befriending him, Tzili be-
Dutton), just released in a
of other writers employ- somehow mastered the comes pregnant before he
sensitive and accomplished
ing different techniques.
technique of aesthetic dis- seeks his expiation at the
translation, are all small
The Holocaust was a par- tancing which allows him to hands of the peasants. Los-
ticularized tragedy for both treat his material with ing him, she also suffers the
Appelfeld and Wiesel. The greater objectivity. The re- loss of her unborn child. As
latter has been able to es- sult is a voice with a wider the war ends, she has come
range, including muted and of age in the forests, and is
soft tones which in their more than just another sur-
subtlety are as effective and vivor, for, despite all she has
more easily sustained than experienced, her humanity
the piercing wail.
is still intact.
Irving Howe has said that
With consummate skill,
"no one surpasses Appelfeld Appelfeld defines the power
in portraying (this) crisis of inherent in Tzili's absolute
European civilization," and powerlessness. She attracts
that he is "one of the best us compellingly, and
novelists alive." Who is Ap- though she is exasperat-
ingly slow, uncouth and
He was born in Czer- simple, her helplessness
novitz, located in the tugs at us constantly.
western Ukraine, in 1932. Aware at first of her weak-
cd °c). ci°
When he was eight years nesses and limitations, we
f\A\-\\\c Od 00010(16,
old, the Nazis killed his come to see eventually that
mother and sent him and some of these are strengths
his father to a labor camp in her bid for survival.
they were sepa-
Determined to survive,
rated. Both eventually she does so by merging with
.\.N 1 s 6 62, 14 0°
escaped from the camp nature, the appreciation of
;.\ "`oce ,
though they were not to which is a heady motif
reunited for 20 years. throughout the book. Appel-
Following his escape in feld reminds us of its re-
1941, the young Appel- storative power in much the
feld lived in the forests same way that Henry Roth
for three years, posing as used it in one part of "Call It
a shepherd, eluding the Sleep," where Genya, after
Nazis and keeping his her father throws her out of
Jewish identity hidden the house upon learning of
from the peasants who her affair with the non-
would have killed him Jewish organist, finds sol-
had they known.
ace and the will to live in the
In 1944, he joined the beauty of the field of blue
Russian army as a field cornflowers.
For all Tzili's close re-
cook. After World War II he
emigrated to Palestine. He semblance to the crude
studied at Hebrew Univer- peasants — she seems a
sity and fought in Israel's younger image of I. B.
wars. Married, with three Singer's Magda in "The
children, he teaches He- Magician of Lublin" —
brew literature at Ben- she is far from insensi-
Gurion University and tive. Cerebral she is not,
writes his novels.
but she understands and
"Tzili: The Story of a Life" responds to the needs of
is in one respect Appelfeld's others directly and
account of his survival in entirely through her feel-
the forest. The narrative, ings.
Often silent and passive,
however, is more
encompassing, since Tzili is she communicates
not a boy but a girl, the eloquently through her
dull-witted youngest child emotions in much the same
in a large, lower middle- way Faulkner's famous
class, minimally Jewish idiot, Benjy, in "The Sound
family. Her lot in life is to be and The Fury," makes
neglected and abused. She known his love for his sister,
is ridiculed at home and at Caddie.
Obviously, one of the
Like Gimpel the Fool in I. book's major attractions is
B. Singer's story she ab- its sheer allusive quality,
sorbs her punishment un- recalling, in addition to
flinchingly, keeping hold of Singer, Roth, and Faulkner,
her small mite of faith. Ac- Kafka and Hemingway, too.
Yet Appelfeld's style is
cepting her lot, she does not
even question her aban- not derivative. Rather, it
donment by her family as has a universality to it
which makes inevitable the
the Nazis approach.
Living from hand to comparisons with other ac-
mouth, she blends her complished writers in the
tiny self into the coun- sense that he, like the ones
tryside, occasionally named, is capable of balanc-
moving into a peasant ing the relaxed, easy flow of
household to perform the narrative with the
domestic chores and ab- gravity of the subject.
The book literally sings,
sorb the constant beat-
ings that are her due. By which makes it all the more
accident she assumes the remarkable considering its
identity of one of the il- grim subject-matter.
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