Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Aharon Appelfeld is himself a survivor of the Holocaust whose doom haunts his fiction. Born in Czernowitz, Bukovina (then Romanian, now within the Soviet Union), he was eight when the invading Germans sent him to a labor camp in 1940. His mother was killed; his father died in the camp; in 1941, the boy managed to escape into the inhospitable countryside, working as a shepherd and farm laborer for three years, hiding his identity from hunters of Jews, growing up without a proper adolescence. After the armistice, he made his way to Italy with a small tide of refugees, and from there emigrated to Palestine in 1946. Though he knew no Hebrew before the age of fourteen, he writes exclusively in his adopted language. His published works in Israel include six collections of stories, eight novels, and one book of essays.

Neither The Age of Wonders nor Appelfeld’s other fiction directly alludes to the Holocaust’s monstrous reality of deaths almost beyond reckoning. The horrors to come or just ended are a baleful flickering on the horizon of his muted, compressed, austerely understated perspective. His artistic strategy is to produce fiction whose structure, imagery, tone, and voice all meditate somberly on the precarious course of contemporary Judaism. He struggles unblinkingly with the culture of self-rejection to which all too many Jews succumbed in Central and Western Europe. In his flat, controlled, lucidly neutral prose, never thundering or...

(The entire section is 433 words.)