Appelfeld in Bloom
Blooms of Darkness
by Aharon Appelfeld
Schocken, 288 pp., $25.95
Great writers often repeat themselves, and Israeli author Aharon Appelfeld is no exception. A child survivor of the Holocaust, he has published more than thirty books—among them novels, short story collections, and a memoir—through which he explores the traumas of his past, sometimes directly, often less so.
Appelfeld was eight years old when the Germans invaded Romania, killing his mother and deporting him and his father to a Ukrainian labor camp. When the two were separated, the young boy escaped the camp. For two years, he wandered the forests, subsisting on wild fruit and berries. During winter, he passed himself off as a Ukrainian orphan in order to find work in exchange for meager shelter and food. For a time he worked as a servant for a temperamental prostitute; later, he joined the Soviet army, assisting in the military kitchen. After the war, he traveled to Italy with other survivors, and from there to Palestine, where he arrived, alone and uneducated, at the age of 14.
Appelfeld’s work draws heavily on his childhood experiences. Although he writes in Hebrew, his works are all set in Europe, before or during the war. Always, the language is bare, even plain; observations and ideas are communicated in a simple, childlike voice. In Blooms of Darkness, the protagonist Hugo lives in an unidentified ghetto with his mother (his father has been taken away). From his apartment window, he watches the deportations, and observes desperate Jews grope in the dark as they try to make sense of what is happening around them and search for some means of escape. In these harsh surroundings, the boy has “learned not to ask” but “to listen instead to the silence between the words.”