An allegorical evocation of the extinction of pre-WW II European-Jewish culture--as a tiny Austrian resort town, host to an...

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BADENHEIM 1939

An allegorical evocation of the extinction of pre-WW II European-Jewish culture--as a tiny Austrian resort town, host to an annual summer music festival, turns into purgatory. The regulars collect as ever: the musicians; the intense young historian; a pair of ""readers"" who give dour public recitations of Rilke; a virtuoso named Mandelbaum and his brow-beaten trio; trysting lovers; ""tall women to whose brows vague secrets clung like skin."" But the local pharmacist's wife, ill and delusional, sees people as ghosts . . . and the Sanitation Department begins to have independent investigatory powers. And though the pastry shop still is busy, posters begin to appear around town: ""THE AIR IN POLAND IS FRESHER . . . SAIL ON THE VISTULA."" So, despite the artificial gaiety of the local impresario, who begins extolling the upcoming emigration, Badenheim begins to crust over with hopelessness. Even the starving dogs around town are in limbo: ""You could see that they wanted to die, but Death did not seem to want them yet . . . they had retreated into the bushes and waited for Death, and because Death did not come for them they came out and stood under the light."" Badenheim is the terminal, then, of Austro-Jewish culture, the trappings much too fine and old to be shucked quickly enough in the face of disaster. But while Israeli novelist Appelfeld renders this pathetic and painful down-grade by use of spare and discrete imagery, he has nothing more to present here than the sense of a moment, a condition: the slow turn in the breeze of a hanged man. Limpidly translated by Dalya Bilu, then--an oblique, measured, short novel kept from true memorableness only by the slightly precious, utterly static treatment of its material.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 1980

ISBN: 1567923917

Page Count: -

Publisher: Godine

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1980