Born in Bukovina, Romania (a region that is now in the Soviet Union), Aharon Appelfeld was eight years old when he was sent to a concentration camp. He escaped and later joined a band of young survivors who fought and foraged their way down to Italy. After the war he went to Palestine; today, he is one of Israel’s leading writers.
THE HEALER, translated from the Hebrew by Jeffrey M. Green, is Appelfeld’s eighth novel to appear in English. All of these novels center on the Holocaust, though none of them directly describes the concentration camps. Rather, Appelfeld conveys that horror obliquely, metaphorically: The Holocaust is the unspoken conclusion that gives his dreamlike narratives their implacable momentum.
It might seem that by now, this formula must be exhausted, yet it is clear that it is the compulsion to tell the same story over and over that keeps Appelfeld writing. If THE HEALER is any evidence, it is a story worth telling again.
The story begins with the directness that is Appelfeld’s trademark. Felix Katz, an assimilated Jew who runs a successful business in Vienna, has traveled to the Carpathian Mountains with his wife and their teenaged daughter and son. The daughter, Helga, her father’s favorite, has suffered for some time from an inexplicable depression, a sadness or listlessness that briefly lifts now and then only to descend on her with renewed force. Doctors in Vienna and even as far afield as...
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