Aharon Appelfeld: Blooms of Darkness

May 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

978-0805242805 – Shocken Books – Hardcover – $25.95

Aharon Appelfeld’s Blooms of Darkness is a powerful, majestic and triumphant coming of age novel.  It’s told entirely in the first person, in sentences that are short, sharp, clear and beautifully composed.   And since we know that it was written originally in Hebrew, the translator, Jeffrey M. Green, deserves special mention for the excellent English version we have here.

The book takes place in an unnamed city in Ukraine from 1943 to the end of the war, not even three years.  The narrator and central character is Hugo, 11 years old at the outset of the novel, taken by his mother to stay with her closest friend Mariana, who turns out to be a prostitute living in a brothel.  Much of the novel, therefore, takes place in the closet and room they share, under constant threat of exposure and death.  The sense of living in a highly charged atmosphere, in such an internal space, is almost palpably claustrophobic, and inhabits every element of the story.  The relationship between Hugo and Mariana is the core of the novel; they each suffer, they depend entirely upon each other.  Their relationship grows and deepens through the course of the novel and its experience becomes a powerful transformative force for Hugo, who, like the author, survives the war as a completely different person than he was when his story begins.

Aharon Appelfeld has lived in Jerusalem for more than sixty years.  He speaks many languages, but now writes only in Hebrew, which he learned only as an adult.  We talked in depth about the events and characters in this beautiful novel, the nature of fiction as opposed to memoir, and about the author’s life as a Holocaust survivor and Jewish writer and teacher.  Blooms of Darkness is a novel that has stayed with me since I read it; its story is one of hope and survival, as is the life of its author.  This novel was transformative for me, as was my discussion with its brilliant author.

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4 Responses to “Aharon Appelfeld: Blooms of Darkness”
  1. L. L. Diamond says:

    This is a rich, mesmerizing dialogue about the art of writing, the Hebrew language, and a personal view of life during World War II and the Holocaust. I will run to get this book, jump into it, and then return to the interview to complete what feels like an initiation.

    Thank you!

  2. Elaine Starkman says:

    I’ve just finished “Blooms of Darkness” by Aharon Appelfeld, which I read in two
    nights. I enjoyed hearing Appelfeld’s authentic voice and his explanation of how he writes. After listening, I felt more empathy for the female character, Marina,
    the real possibility, that at that catastrophic time, yes, it would be possible for
    an adolescent boy to fall in love with the prostitute who hides him in her brothel
    where she stays time the Russians arrive. I had wondered, indeed, if they would
    have killed Ukrainian women who slept with German men to save their own lives.

  3. I’ve enjoyed many of Aharon Apelfeld’s novels immensely, Blooms of Darkness too, of course, and I’m happy to listen to this interview. Thank you.
    I’ve read several reviews, all positive, but so far no one seems to mention the very different style in which this book is written. It is wordier, less rigorous stylistically. I wonder how much this has to do with the translator (an excellent translation, it seems) and how much this might have to do with Mr. Apelfeld’s continued growth and desire to experiment.


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