Read September 2007
This dream-like short novel is typical of Appelfeld’s style, and contains yet again the themes that characterise his work.
The story features a Jewish mother from Ruthenia who defied her parents to marry a gentile from Vienna. The husband turns out (as we would expect from Appelfeld) to be a violent alcoholic and the relationship breaks down. The woman is left with a son, and survives through a series of relationships with rich men, one of whom bequeaths her his property and she acquires financial independence.
The body of the story follows a several-year long journey by mother and now adolescent son from Vienna to Ruthenia back to the parents’ home. Along the way, as is typical in Appelfeld’s oeuvre, they meet kind and cultured Jewish people and vulgar, cruel and anti-Semitic Ruthenian peasants. The boy faces an inner struggle of identity between the gentile and Jewish, but ends up – after having been separated from his mother – with a young pious Jewish girl. The novel ends with the young couple among a community of Jews from a village sharing stories and food as they wait for a train which will deport them.