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This article is taken from PN Review 241, Volume 44 Number 5, May - June 2018.

Aharon Appelfeld Gabriel Josipovici

THE ISRAELI NOVELIST Aharon Appelfeld died on 4 January. It would, however, be truer to say that he was one of the last of the great central European authors who lived and worked in the aftermath of the Austro­Hungarian Empire, and who include Musil, Hofmannsthal, Rilke, Wittgenstein, Kafka, Celan, Bernhard, Ingeborg Bachmann and Peter Handke. Writers whose first language was German but who, as Marjorie Perloff has rightly insisted, should be seen as a distinct group, very different from their north German counterparts – Mann, Brecht, Grass and the rest.

He was born in 1932 in Czernowitz, the chief city of Bukovina in what was then Romania and is now Ukraine, into an assimilated, wealthy, German-speaking Jewish family. ‘The annual pilgrimage to the Mecca of culture, Vienna, was a feature of my early life,’ he has said. Paul Celan, born in the same thriving metropolis eight years earlier, wrote in German all his life, though bitterly aware that his mother tongue had been contaminated by the Nazis and that to use it at all was to work with fatally tarnished tools. Appelfeld, whose mother was murdered when the Nazis moved into Bukovina in 1941 and who with his father was incarcerated in a camp, escaped, wandered in the forests of Eastern Europe for a year, was picked up by the Russian Army, eventually made his way, via Italy, to Israel. It was natural, then, that when he began to write, the language he would use would be Hebrew, but it was ...

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