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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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. Totally innocent at the outset, Hugo gradually comes to understand the nature of Mariana's work, her self-disgust, depression and resort to alcohol. Despite the haphazard nature of her provision for him, Hugo and Mariana become emotionally important to each other. He hears absolutely nothing of his parents, but realistic scenarios of what might have happened to them occur in his dreams.

As the tide of war turns, the business of the whorehouse falls off and it closes. Hugo and Mariana are then obliged to face the dangers of life on the outside.

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. Measures of Aharon Appelfeld's success with his story are regret that it is not more extended, and a hope that perhaps there might be a sequel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 21 January 2013
Hugo, a ten year old Jewish boy in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, is hidden by his mother in a brothel...Out of this poignant situation Appelfeld weaves a beautifully told and realistic story of courage, degradation and perhaps some kind of redemption. The characters of Hugo's middle-class parents and alcoholic uncle - and the brothel madame,guard and prostitutes - are revealed to us vividly through action and dialogue. And we see the world also from Hugo's perspective too,as he passes from childhood into troubled adolescence in the strange world of 'the Residence'. This is an absolutely brilliant, totally absorbing and moving novel. Highly recommended.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2010
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. The mountains in fact become a symbol of hope for both Hugo and Mariana, one sadly without any substance. Both learn to endure the hardships of hunger and displacement, the loss of family and the contempt of neighbours.

Mariana is a beautifully realized character. Strong-willed, compassionate and self-absorbed she admires Jews for their intelligence, sensitivity and stoicism. Nevertheless she is puzzled that so many of them are virtual unbelievers and never attend synagogue. Hugo's family, too, it seems are far from orthodox, one bohemian uncle being a declared atheist. Mariana herself is muted in her Christianity and, like Hugo's Uncle Sigmond she is addicted to the bottle. She imagines that she should have married Sigmond, but when they had spoken of it, he had made `a dismissive gesture with his right hand as if to say, I've already tried that. There's no point to it.'

This is a sad but totally absorbing novel, in which dreams of the past mix with and alternately cloud and brighten the miseries of the present. Gradually Mariana reveals her past to Hugo in fragments such as this: At first I thought that he didn't want to marry me because I'm a simple woman. Later I understood that he was a lost person. I was willing to marry him as he was, to cook his meals and wash his clothes, but then the hard days came, the persecution and the ghetto, and he told me something I'll never forget: `I can't be saved any longer. Save yourself. The Jews have been condemned to death. You're still young.' Well, not so young now but still to Hugo beautiful as ever, his first love, her last love.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 2010
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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on 13 November 2015
Although the brothel setting is unusual, this is a good book about life in hiding during the second world war. There are many small details throughout the book which build a detailed picture of the struggles involved but also show that people could and did survive.
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on 23 January 2013
Heartbreaking, harrowing & unforgettable yet almost ethereal in parts!
Don't be fooled, this is not a standard 'survivor' story although I tend to love stories from a child's perspective!
If you liked 'The Book Thief' then I recommend that you read!
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 18 March 2013
disappointed by this. A childs view of the holocaust and very repetitive and long winded at times.I see it won a prize
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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 29 April 2010
My first book by this author

I feel a bit lack of sentiments,
and of deeper feelings

maybe it is the translation

altogether it is a "nice" book
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