Distinguished fiction by one of Israel’s most prominent novelists.
Appelfeld sets his novel in the early 20th century in the far reaches of the Austrian Empire. Blanca is a promising high-school student, particularly gifted in Latin and mathematics, and she plans to do university study as well, perhaps in Vienna. But when she starts tutoring Adolf, an imposing physical specimen though woefully deficient as a human being, she falls in love, and they decide to marry. Blanca rejects her Jewish heritage and converts to Christianity but quickly finds that Adolf is scarcely the man of her dreams. He’s bad-tempered and churlish and has a particular animus against Jews. Blanca finds herself trying to balance competing family claims when her mother has a lengthy stay at a tuberculosis hospital and her father is confined to an “old people’s home,” largely at Adolf’s insistence, at the young age of 53. Adolf, a drunk, becomes progressively more impossible to live with. The stakes are even higher when Blanca gets pregnant and has a son, Otto, whom Adolf also alternately neglects and mistreats. When Blanca can stand it no more, she takes it on the lam with Otto after committing a brutal crime. Their life becomes a journey both of calm and of fear, especially when she begins to see “wanted” posters cautioning people to be on the lookout for her. Blanca’s journey is not solely geographical, for she also explores the forced rejection of her Jewish roots as she deals with a culture that is virulently anti-Semitic.
A beautiful and affecting novel, Tolstoyan in its compassion for humanity.