By Aharon Appelfeld
Aharon Appelfeld, born in 1932 and still alive, is one of Israel’s foremost living authors and this book shows his skills. He won many awards for his writing including the prestigious Israel Prize. He was born in Ukraine, which is the backbone of this book, and traveled to Israel when he was eight years old. He writes in Hebrew and the translation of this volume is excellent. The book is very readable. Generally his books revolve around the Holocaust, but they do not depict the horrors of the concentration camps; what he writes is relevant because he tells the impacts upon people that horrible situations can produce. This novel depicts a character that went through the holocaust, but that experience plays a very small part in the novel.
His books are not realistic depictions of actual events although they may appear to be so. His books can and should be interpreted metaphorically. Although his writing is properly classified as good literature, his writing is not complex; his style is clear, precise, easily understandable, modernistic, and interesting.
I will describe some parts of the framework of this novel but not the drama. The scenes take place in Israel, but the protagonist, 71 year old Ernst, recalls events of his youth in Ruthenia in western Ukraine in the 921 mile long Carpathian Mountain range, the second largest mountain range in Central and Eastern Europe. Irena, a simple single woman who is half his age, comes to Ernst’s home daily to take care of his house, to clean and cook, from morning to night. Ernst is tormented and depressed when Irena appears. He was a writer in his youth in Ruthenia and was praised for it, but now feels his writing is wrong. His writings recall how badly his parents treated him. He hides his writings and doesn’t want them published. When he gets to know Irena, he tells her to burn his papers when he dies.
Irena does not understand all she hears because of her simple nature, although we have no difficulty understanding the events. She left school in the tenth grade, has difficulty in expressing herself, and she is convinced that she is able to see and hear her dead parents with whom she had a good relationship.
Readers of this fine book will find it interesting to see if there are changes in Ernst and Irena and, if so, why and what are they; does Ernst see a secret hidden within Irena’s simplicity and what is it; what do Ernst and Irena want; how does Irena react to serious problems that Ernst has; and why is Ernst able to be angry while Irena is not. Will Ernst begin to be able to write and, if so, what does he write about? Will Irena be charmed by the man twice her age and, if so, how does she show it? Readers will also want to ask themselves, is the title of the book ironic because love does not come suddenly or, if it does, how and when does it occur?