THE AGE OF WONDERS by Aharon Appelfeld


Email this review


Bruno is ten in 1936, his father a well-known and successful Austrian-Jewish novelist. Ethnically, however, the family is almost wholly denatured. And so there's a familiar story of internal change soon to come: with anti-Semitism and the gathering Holocaust, Bruno's father is gradually thrown into a frenzy of self-criticism and self-hatred, as his work begins to be denounced in the press as ""decadent."" The family's continual, nightmarish train journeys symbolically counterpoint the growing hysteria and placelessness of these totally acculturated Jews. But there's nowhere to go on these journeys--as all the town's Jews ultimately realize when they're summoned en masse to the synagogue one day, locked in from the outside, and made ready for deportation to the camps. Appelfeld's novel, though complete in effect at this point, goes on with a coda, however: Bruno, 30 years later, a resident of Jerusalem, returning to his native Austrian town to stir the shards, the memories. And this poky, unnecessary epilogue is a particular mistake in a largely ephemeral book which suffers throughout from repetitiousness, from imagery that's too limpid to make an impact. Still, there are two strong scenes here: the incarceration in the Synagogue; and the family's visit to a sculptor friend (in a Jewish almshouse) who has perversely, nearly uniquely, turned more Jewish instead of less. (And when Bruno's father protests the almshouse's miserable living conditions, the old Jews there attack him bodily: an unsettling, meaningful episode.) Two powerful sequences, then, with the considerable theme of anticipatory Jewish anti-Semitism; but, like Appelfeld's Badenheim 1939, the overall effect is disjointed and oddly slight--as if written in smoke.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0879237988
Publisher: Godine