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Blooms of Darkness [Paperback]

Aharon Appelfeld
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

19 Sep 2011
The ghetto in which the Jews have been confined is being liquidated by the Nazis, and eleven-year-old Hugo is brought by his mother to the local brothel, where one of the prostitutes has agreed to hide him. Mariana is a bitterly unhappy woman who hates what she has done to her life, and night after night Hugo sits in her closet and listens uncomprehendingly as she rages at the Nazi soldiers who come and go. When she s not mired in self-loathing, Mariana is fiercely protective of the bewildered, painfully polite young boy. And Hugo becomes protective of Mariana, too, trying to make her laugh when she is depressed, soothing her physical and mental agony with cold compresses. As the memories of his family and friends grow dim, Hugo falls in love with Mariana. And as her life spirals downwards, Mariana reaches out for consolation to the adoring boy who is on the cusp of manhood. Multi-award-winning writer Aharon Appelfeld once again crafts out of the depths of unfathomable tragedy a renewal of life and a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Alma Books Ltd (19 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184688148X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846881480
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 769,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Aharon Appelfeld is fiction s foremost chronicler of the Holocaust. The stories he tells, as here in Blooms of Darkness, are small, intimate, and quietly narrated and yet are transfused into searing works of art by Appelfeld s profound understanding of loss, pain, cruelty, and grief.' -- Philip Roth

'With short, simple sentences and a brisk pace, the effect of this novel is reminiscent of a film, except that a film would place greater emphasis on dramatic incident and the horror of the situation. As readers, we are left to reflect on such matters for ourselves.' -- East-West Review

'The parents' dilemma of how to live with horror and what to tell the children; Hugo's inexorable forgetting; the inability to understand what you fear […] all are caught in Appelfeld's glancing, delicate prose.' --The Independent

About the Author

Aharon Appelfeld is the author of more than forty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Badenheim 1939, Tzili, The Iron Tracks (winner of the National Jewish Book Award), and The Story of a Life (winner of the Prix Médicis Étranger). Other honors he has received include the Giovanni Bocaccio Literary Prize, the Nelly Sachs Prize, the Israel Prize, the Bialik Prize, and the MLA Commonwealth Award.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Desperate Diseases Require Desperate Remedies 30 Nov 2010
In 1941, Axis forces invaded the part of modern-day Ukraine in which the city of Chernivtsi is situated, holding it until its "liberation" by the Red Army in 1944. As was the case throughout Poland, the Baltic States and the Soviet republics that were invaded, the many Jews living in the region were prime victims, and the great majority were killed. Aharon Appelfeld, born in Chernivtsi, was nine years old at the time of the invasion. He was placed in a labour camp with his father, but they became separated and he succeeded in fleeing to hide in the woods, ultimately surviving. Blooms of Darkness is not closely autobiographical, but the fictional story of 11 year old Hugo Mansfeld clearly reflects parts of Appelfeld's own story.

The novel opens some months into the occupation, in what we may take to be early 1942. The Jews of Chernivtsi have been concentrated in a ghetto; some, including Hugo's father, have been deported to labour camps; many children have been snatched to be asphyxiated in mobile gas chambers; all those remaining in the ghetto, adults and children, are being systematically removed to an unknown destination (in fact Transnistria). In a desperate attempt to preserve his life, Hugo's mother finds a hiding place for him in a brothel, in the custody of one of the whores, a one-time school friend, Mariana. Despite Mariana's profession, Hugo's mother has never renounced her friendship; her steadfastness will now be repaid.

Hugo has to spend most of his time in an unheated closet off Mariana's room. German soldiers, "entertained" by Mariana, regularly come within a few feet of him. He overhears all. One by one, the other whores learn of his presence, increasing the danger both to him and to Mariana as the Germans hunt down every last Jew and their protectors.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars totally absorbing; extremely moving 31 Aug 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Aharon Appelfeld, Blooms of Darkness
Translated from the Hebrew by Jeffrey M Green

This story of an eleven-year old Jewish boy who finds shelter with a Christian prostitute who is obliged to entertain German soldiers is captivating and moving. The boy, Hugo, is entrusted by his mother to Mariana, her old school friend `working' as a sex-slave in The Residence, an occupation she detests but which gives her the means of survival in German-speaking Ukraine. As with the Diaries of Anne Frank, the reader is ever-conscious of the horrors lying in wait for all those found guilty of harbouring Jews, who are routinely rounded up and transported. The tension of a knock on the door, the rumours, and the hopes and fears of the residents keep Hugo and the reader on tenterhooks throughout. We see only as much as Hugo sees of the outside world, as he is hidden in a closet, while nightly Mariana entertains her clients. As the days turn into weeks and years, Hugo gradually comes to realise the nature of his adoptive mother's work. Each comes to depend on the other for solace and support and eventually they become lovers, much to the scorn of the other residents. The threat of exposure to the enemy is ever-present.

As the tide of battle outside moves in favour of the Russians, the threat increases. All the women are now jumpy, many falling back on their Christian belief for succor. Collaborating whores are likely to be severely dealt with when the Russians arrive, and this indeed happens to all those who are later interrogated by the new occupiers of the city, one never mentioned by name, but clearly not far from the Carpathian mountains that Hugo and his family used to visit before the war.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest living writer of Holocaust fiction 25 July 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Aharon Appelfeld is sadly almost unknown as a writer in the UK; most of his work having been published only in the USA. Born in the town of Czernovitz on the border between Ukraine and Romania (a cultural centre, birthplace also of the poet Paul Celan) his life story is extraordinary. At the age of eight he was separated from his parents and sent by the Nazis to a concentration camp from which he escaped, spending the next three years in hiding in the Ukrainian countryside before joining the Russian army. After the war he made his way to Israel and settled in Jerusalem.

His fictional writing very much reflects his personal history. In "Blooms of Darkness", an eleven - year old boy on the cusp of manhood is brought by his mother to the local brothel where one of the prostitutes has agreed to hide him. The relationship between the two of them develops and deepens as the story progresses. Although the events described, or merely hinted at, are of course dark and deeply tragic, there is ultimately something life - affirming in Appelfeld's writing, as there is in that of the great Primo Levi. The book also provokes reflection on the nature of Jewish identity, in the modern world as well as in that time.

Much of Appelfeld's work has a dreamlike quality. In "Blooms of Darkness" I find the writing more concrete and the characters drawn in more detail, but the sparse, restrained, apparently simple prose is unmistakeably his. Aharon Appelfeld is in my opinion the greatest living writer of Holocaust fiction. I give this book the highest possible recommendation.
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