Aharon Appelfeld: Blooms of Darkness
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.