Lisa's Reviews > Blooms of Darkness

Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld
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's review
Mar 11, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: israel, translation, c21st, middle-east-lit

Aharon Appelfeld is the author of more than forty books and has received numerous awards, but I had never heard of him until this novel, Blooms of Darkness, was nominated for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. It’s a sombre work, because it deals with the Holocaust, but it’s beautiful all the same, because although Ukraine has never yet conducted any investigation into its known Nazi collaborators, Appelfeld’s story holds no bitterness or blame. He has chosen instead to focus his story on an unlikely member of the 2,363 Ukrainian Righteous among the Nations, a prostitute who saves the life of a young boy.

The story begins in the wake of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. The Nazis are closing in on the ghetto, somewhere in Ukraine, where ultimately almost a million Jews would be murdered by the Einsatzgruppen (SS paramilitary death squads). Hugo’s mother knows they are coming, and like other Jewish parents is desperately trying to find a refuge for her boy. His father has already ‘been sent to a labour camp’ and each day they see more people being rounded up in the square and trucked away. The squads are conducting house-to-house searches and there are ‘severe penalties’ for anyone caught hiding Jews.

Yet, remarkably, many of Hugo’s friends have already disappeared somewhere into the mountains, to be cared for by peasant families until it’s all over. All the characters in this novel, especially Hugo’s mother, have this deep-rooted understanding that one day it will be ‘all over’. The madness cannot possibly be a permanent state of affairs. ‘You must not despair’, Mama counsels the boy, as she prepares him for their separation…

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