By Jeremy Gillick
The release last week of Laish, Aharon Appelfeld’s latest book to be translated into English, provided an excellent excuse to celebrate the Israeli author’s long and prolific career.
Originally published in Hebrew in 1994, the novel follows a band of mainly elderly, eastern European Jews, flawed but faithful, on their seemingly hopeless pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Narrated through the eyes of Laish, a teenager, it is a believable story, sad and even romantic, that is entirely symbolic. If it is not Appelfeld’s best work, it is nonetheless an important contribution, and as Naomi Sokoloff wrote in the Forward, it goes a long way towards illuminating his life and trajectory as an author.
Here’s how William Giraldi, in an excellent review at bookforum.com, sums up the 77-year old Appelfeld’s career: “In his growing body of fiction—a novelistic kaddish—Appelfeld employs the right words, the only words, to pass along the story that should never have been. Being labeled a Holocaust writer might indeed irritate Appelfeld, but no living novelist—not Wiesel, not Amos Oz—better chronicles the spiritual vacuum and extreme disorientation that ensued in the aftermath of Auschwitz. Whatever critics choose to call him, we require his witness.” Continue reading