Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 303
Aharon Appelfeld's haunting Holocaust story starts with the prescient line “Perhaps it would be better to leave the story of Tzili Kraus’s life untold.” The ritual character is a 12 year old Jewish girl living in the Ukraine, when her large family abandons her at their family farm. Tzili is somewhat dim, only ever able to remember a single prayer in school, and her mother assumes no one would ever harm such a pitiful child. However, the cruelty of invading Nazis knows no bounds, and Tzili, of course, is eventually forced to flee, herself. It's a near auto-biography of the author, who escaped a concentration camp to the Ukrainian wilderness for three years before joining the Russian army as a kitchen boy. However eerie the similarities to his own life, Appelfeld did endeavor to write a work of fiction, and by removing his own experiences onto an older girl, he allows himself to explore different avenues.
Silence is a big theme of the book, the lone Tzili hiding like an animal through the seasons. She meets brutal peasants in Winter, and endures the lascivious behavior alone. Tzili works hard during this season, along with Summer and Autumn as she forages and lives in absolute nature. She spends two years, abused by the peasants she serves and finding solace in talking to the cows. The end of the novel sees her joining a band of roaming survivors, and the book doesn't end happy—the aftermath of the physical and psychological destruction of the Holocaust impacts the entire band very deeply. Tzili is a deeply sad character, and almost nothing good happens to her the entirety of her life. There are no easy endings, especially not in this book of a harrowing experience from the eyes of a girl constantly underestimated and taken advantage of.