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Bartfuss is a 52-year-old Holocaust survivor living in Jaffa, Israel. A smuggler--a renowned one--in Italy after being released from the camps, he has turned into a marginally legal but nearly as shadowy ""trader"" in unspecified goods; and has amassed a fortune, hidden. It gives him no pleasure, however--nothing does. His family--wife and grown daughters--he keeps away from as much as possible, closeting himself but overhearing them plot how to best find out where his money is hidden: ""They met every night, drinking coffee and eating sandwiches. The smell of omelet hung in the house until the wee hours. He knew the siege had begun, but it didn't worry him much. Their blind groping secretly pleased him."" Why? Because Bartfuss--""immortal"" for his exploits as a smuggler, denying death--has been interiorly dead for decades, a monster of magnitude, a miserable soul. Appelfeld (Badenheim 1939, The Age of Wonders) here is limning post-Holocaust self-disgust in a spare and sullen prose reminiscent of Peter Handke's or some late Beckett. Much of it is excellent if repetitious (and Bartfuss' slow movement toward a state of resurrected humanity can sometimes read as excessively mannered: too many details of tepidness, ""thin shadows"" everywhere and the like). Yet it's interesting to read a fiction like this in which the misanthropy of survival is as much the pivot as luck and courage. Nor for a sunny day's blasÉ read, perhaps, but quite notable.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1987
ISBN: 0802133584
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson