Red Wheelbarrow Book Reviews
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The Story of a Lifeby Aharon Appelfeld
Hamish Hamilton Ltd
The author is one of Israel's most distinguished writers from the refugee generation and with this book he tells his tale. He was born in Czernowitz, a multi-lingual town of the once upon a time Austro-Hungarian Empire. Language, place and family play the central roles of this story which is the story of a boy born in 1932 whose mother was killed early on by the Nazis, he and his father were sent into the ghetto. The boy escaped to survive by hiding in the Ukrainian forests, eating and sleeping where ever his flight took him until he was rescued, at the end of the war, to continue a life in the camps set up for the survivors.
He tells us that his greatest loss was his loss of language. He grew up speaking german to his parents - a language he was never to speak again. During the war he remained essentially silent, feeling that he had become mute and yet he managed, with enormous effort of will, to write in hebrew after, indeed, many years.
The home he cherished until he was nine, is the place from which he draws all his visions, his imagination, his intellectual and emotional strength. He never saw any of his family again, but their role in his growing up, in his development as a writer and an intellectual of stature, is the story told here.
The book is told in brief chapters not necessarily in the order one might expect but when the reader comes to the end of the book, she will have had the experience of having lived in an old Europe which has slowly vanished from this earth.
I was hesitant to like the book until I came under its spell after the first five or six chapters, but I now feel enriched by the telling.