Aharon Appelfeld, Literary Giant Who Gave Vivid Voice to Holocaust, Dies at 85

Aharon Appelfeld has 47 books to his name

One of Israel’s most talented writers, Aharon Appelfeld, 85, died on January 4. He had won a number of literary awards, including the National Jewish Book Award given for fiction in 1989 and the earlier Israel Prize given for literature in 1983.

Appelfeld leaves behind a rich trove of knowledge, being a prolific writer. He was known for his Holocaust fiction, essays, and memoirs. He published a total of 47 books. Appelfeld’s last book was “Perplexity”, a romance novel. It saw the light of print in September 2017. He was appointed as Foreign Honorary Member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997.

Appelfeld wrote exclusively in Hebrew. This was an amazing feat considering that his first brush with the language happened when he was 13 years old. It was at this time he arrived in yet to be formed the State of Israel, after multiple painful experiences and harrowing escapes. He has spent much of his childhood in the midst of horrific conditions present during that time in Europe, Ukraine, and Russia. The events which took place early in his life shaped his fictional writing. In a media interview, he said that he simply metamorphosed his memory into fiction.

The book “Badenheim 1939” was Appelfeld’s first novel to be translated into the English language. It became a classic later on. Badenheim 1939 continues to be an important literary piece of work, making it a part of the school and college syllabus for the Holocaust classes. His initial novel set the style and pace of his subsequent books. It was a concise and sharp metaphor for all the sufferings he had endured during his life. His writings never explicitly referred to the holocaust, but vividly evoked the tragedy of the Jewish people.

Appelfeld was a Romanian citizen prior to the Nazis coming to power in Germany. His mother was taken away from him at the time of Jewish pogrom of the Second World War. He drifted in the ruins of Europe before making his way to Israel. He and his father reunited after a long gap of 20 years. He studied at Hebrew University. He began his writing career penning down short stories. A few books later, he progressed to novels. Appelfeld liked to write in cafes-a lifelong habit. This habit, he told anybody who was interested, reminded him of his hometown.

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