TO THE LAND OF THE CATTAILS by Aharon Appelfield


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Toni, a beautiful Jewish woman, and Rudi, her half-Jewish teen-aged son, journey from 1938 Austria to ToM's homeland in the Bukovina region--in another slight, disjointed, didactic tale from the author of Badenheim 1939, The Age of Wonders, Tzili, and The Retreat. After years of Austrian assimilation, frivolous divorcÉe Toni (wealthy thanks to an elderly lover's bequest) now aches for her Jewish roots, for a reconciliation with her observant parents--who've never forgiven Toni for eloping with a non-Jew (a wife-beater whom she promptly divorced). And so she sets off, in a horse-drawn carriage driven by Aryan-looking son Rudi, through the increasingly primitive villages of Eastern Europe. Along the way, Rudi--who has all sorts of ambivalent feelings about his adoring, neglectful, sexy mother--tries to think of him. self as really Jewish for the first time, despite recoiling somewhat from the Jews he meets and slipping into drunken, boorish ""gentile"" behavior. Meanwhile, there are disturbing reports--including horrified reactions to a much-loved Jewish landladys' murder--of rising local anti-Semitism wherever the travelers go. And, predictably, Toni arrives in her hometown just in time to be rounded up for deportation along with the resident Jews--pursued by Rudi, who undergoes some intense Jewish consciouness-raising before the grim, matter-of-fact fade-out. Again, as in previous Appelfield parables of the Holocaust, there's a core of resonance in the central imagery--here, the irony of a long homeward journey to roots that are about to be utterly destroyed. To an even greater extent than before, however, the basic themes--Jewish anti-Semitism and assimilation, the rediscovery of Jewish identity--are talkily belabored. And, perhaps in part because of awkward translation, Appelfield's narration and dialogue this time are uncharacteristically stiff, with little of the atmospheric, fable-like quality that frequently distinguished the earlier books.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1986
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (10 East 53 St., New York, NY 10022)