892: All Whom I Have Loved by Aharon Appelfeld
892.46: Appelfeld, Aharon. All Whom I Have Loved: A Novel. Translated by Aloma Halter. New York: Schocken, 2007. 246 pp. ISBN 978-0-8052-4177-8.
- 800: Literature
- 890: Literatures of other specific languages and language families
- 892: Afro-Asiatic or Semitic literatures
- 892.4: Hebrew literature
- 892.46: Hebrew literature from authors starting between 1947 to 1999.
[Note: Be warned that this is a review of a work of fiction, and as such, contains more than a few spoilers. If you wish to be truly surprised by this book, please do not read on.]
Aharon Appelfeld’s All Whom I Have Loved is a poignant tale of a small Jewish family in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe. Set in 1938 Ukraine and Romania, the story is told from the point of view of nine-year-old Paul Rosenfeld. Paul’s father, Arthur, was once a renowned painter, but anti-Semitic art critics have marginalized his achievements. As such, he is resigned to live as a functioning alcoholic. Paul’s mother is also a teacher who finally decides to let the marriage dissolve. Once Arthur moves away, she arranges for a local woman named Halina to watch Paul during the day. His mother is eventually courted by a fellow teacher, Andre, whom she marries. Ironically, Paul is exempt from any schooling due to a medical condition.
All around him, events conspire to rob Paul of his loved ones. Halina is murdered by a enraged boyfriend, his mother dies of typhus, and his father is killed trying to thwart a robbery. During all of this, he is moved from town to town, trying desperately to become a part of his parents’ lives. Their pre-occupations and fears inadvertently endanger young Paul, and he learns of the world far too fast.
Any recounting of this book will always pale in comparison to the text itself. Even the English translation (it was originally written in Hebrew) is studded with beautiful and evocative language that makes it less of a narrative and more of a cautionary fable. Paul’s interaction with the world around him is almost always palpably sad. Even so, there is beauty in the sadness. If it weren’t for the constraints of this quest, I would immediately read the rest of Appelfeld’s works. This is a wonderful book.