THE IRON TRACKS by Aharon Appelfeld


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 A compulsive series of journeys across the map of postwar Europe absorbs the narrator and protagonist of Israeli writer Appelfeld's haunting 11th novel (Unto the Soul, 1994, etc.)--an elegy, as are all its predecessors, for the Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Two of their number were the parents of Erwin Siegelbaum, a rootless survivor who ``lives,'' 40 years afterward, only on trains, traveling each year along a ``route'' that begins at the station where he and fellow prisoners were abandoned by their Nazi captors just prior to their liberation--and ending, in Erwin's imagination, only when he will at last discover, and execute, the German officer who murdered his family. It's a striking conception, and Appelfeld develops from it a surprisingly dramatic, engrossing novel, given its absence of a conventional plot. We learn that his narrator survived after the war as a smuggler, and in later years ekes out a living buying and reselling ``Jewish antiquities, manuscripts, books . . . everything that was buried for years in cellars and attics.'' Oddly muted descriptions of the people he meets during his ``travels'' and comes to know over the years (a rabbi who faithfully tends a long-abandoned synagogue, an elderly spinster who mourns the passing of her beloved cow) mingle with complex memories of Erwin's father (a Jewish Communist Part activist who spent the war years ``underground'') and mother (herself a deeply engaged rebel, later estranged from her husband). A further dimension is added by the narrator's own moral uncertainty (unlike other Jews, he desires not a home in the Promised Land, but revenge) and wavering purpose: He wonders whether he can kill, right up to the moment when he confronts his elderly prey. One reads Appelfeld not for plot or characterization, but for the intriguing variations he works on his single obsessive theme. This unsparing portrayal of a modern Wandering Jew is one of his most challenging and troubling fictions. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8052-4158-2
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Schocken
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1997


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