The man who never stopped sleeping

Aharon Apelfeld

Book - 2017

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Subjects
Genres
War stories
Historical fiction
Published
New York : Schocken Books [2017]
Edition
First American edition
Language
English
Hebrew
Physical Description
288 pages ; 22 cm
ISBN
9780805243192
0805243194
Main Author
Aharon Apelfeld (author)
Other Authors
Yaacov Jeffrey Green (translator)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Trapped in slumber after WWII, Erwin is carried away from his home in Eastern Europe on refugee shoulders. The journey is long, but he sleeps on, only rising to drink water. The sleeping boy's dreams allow him to speak with his family, who seem alive, hoping to reunite with him. Not until Erwin awakens in Italy does he try to understand his shockingly changed life. He joins a group of young Jewish men training for a new life in Palestine. Readers experience Erwin's gradual transformation into a soldier and farmer on a kibbutz: he changes his name, speaks only Hebrew, carries a gun. But still he needs to sleep and dream—until a crisis fully awakens him. The story is gently tragic, intensely moving, and filled with metaphor. Careful reading showcases the author's exquisite poetic style, drawing us into Erwin's painful experiences and his determination to form an identity that encompasses his roots and honors what (and who) has been lost. Appelfeld is the Israeli author of more than 40 books, many of which have earned prestigious prizes. Another Holocaust survivor's search for identity is featured in Stewart O'Nan's City of Secrets (2016), and ghostly voices also speak in Eli Wiesel's Beggar in Jersusalem (1970). Copyright 2016 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

In this new work from celebrated Israeli author Appelfeld (winner of two National Jewish Book Awards), a young Holocaust survivor who barely recalls his journey to Palestine is injured during a night patrol at his kibbutz and, as he recuperates, moves toward the redemptive act of writing.. Copyright 2016 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Award-winning Israeli author Appelfeld (Suddenly Love) offers a fictional account of his experiences as a young Holocaust survivor who has made his way from war-torn Europe to preindependence Israel. Apparently modeled on the author, the protagonist is the sleeping man of the title, who barely recalls his escape from the Nazi genocide because he slept through most of it. He is carried from the camps after liberation and brought to Italy, where other young men in his situation are trained to become citizens of their future homeland by working the land and learning to bear arms. As our protagonist spends more of his time awake, he has frequent flashbacks to real and imagined conversations with his parents, especially with his mother. We do not learn what happened to his parents during the war or whether they survived. The most intriguing parts of the novel are the young man's coming alive again, bonding with his comrades, and learning to begin a new life. VERDICT In keeping with the title, a dreamlike quality suffuses this well-translated tale, and though it is an effective conceit, some readers may wish that Appelfeld had provided a more specific grounding for his survivor's journey. Recommended especially for followers of this prolific novelist. [See Prepub Alert, 7/25/26.]—Edward B. Cone, New York Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

A survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, Appelfeld has built a body of work that examines the tragedy of the Holocaust and its effects on the Jewish experience. His newest work tells the story of a young survivor who travels from a refugee camp to a kibbutz in Haifa, Israel, to begin a new life. (LJ 1/17)SEE ALSO: Appelfeld's Suddenly, Love (2014), Until the Dawn's Light (2011), Blooms of Darkness (2010), Laish (2009), All Whom I Have Loved (2007), The Story of a Life (2004) Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Appelfeld's novel delineates the process of becoming a writer, with details incorporated from his experience as a Holocaust survivor and refugee. The title's sleeping man is 16-year-old Erwin from Czernowitz (formerly Romania, now Ukraine). Erwin has withdrawn into prolonged slumber after suffering deprivation and the loss of family during World War II. Fellow refugees carry him to Naples, where he joins a group of older boys exercising together, studying Hebrew, and learning to shoot—they then take a boat to what will soon become Israel and continue their training there. Despite pressure to let go of the past, Erwin continues to retreat into dreams for visits home, including conversations with his mother and father. Erwin's group of trainees is eventually sent to a kibbutz to build retaining walls, tend orchards, and guard against infiltrators. Awake Erwin now goes by the Hebrew name Aharon, while the sleeping Erwin shares his hopes and concerns with his parents. Before reaching age 18, Erwin/Aharon is seriously injured in a military action intended to protect the kibbutz. Recovery comes slowly and painfully, but at last he begins to write, in Hebrew: just family names at first, then poetry, and finally stories in remembrance of things past. Erwin/Aharon's physical and spiritual journey reveals the effects of war and dislocation. It also highlights the consolation found in cultivating old connections and latent talents. Throughout, Appelfeld focuses not on historical events or moral judgments but on the formation of a writer, one much like himself, able to transform memory into transcendent prose. (Jan.) Copyright 2016 Publisher Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"Erwin doesn't remember much about his journey across Europe when the war finally ended--and with good reason. He spent most of it asleep, carried by other survivors as they emerged from their hiding places or were liberated from the camps and traveled by train, truck, wagon, or on foot to the shores of Naples, where they filled the refugee camps and wondered what was to become of them. As he struggles to stay awake, Erwin becomes part of a group of young boys being trained in both body and mind for their new lives in Palestine. The fog of sleep gradually lifts, and when he and his comrades arrive in Haifa, they are assigned to a kibbutz, where they learn how to tend to the land and how to speak their new language. But a part of Erwin desperately clings to the past--to memories of his parents and other relatives, to his mother tongue, to the Ukrainian city where he was born--and he knows that who he was is just as important as who he is now becoming. When he is wounded while on night patrol, Erwin must spend long months recovering from multiple surgeries and trying to regain the use of his legs. As he exercises his body, he exercises his mind as well, copying passages from the Bible in his newly acquired Hebrew and working up the courage to create his own texts in this language both old and new, hoping to succeed as a writer where his beloved father had failed. With the support of his friends and of other survivors, and with the ever-present memory of his mother to spur him on, Erwin takes his first tentative steps with his crutches--and with his pen"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Follows the story of Erwin, a young Holocaust survivor, who travels from a refugee camp to a kibbutz in Haifa to begin a new life while still desperately clinging to his memories of the past.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A young holocaust survivor tries to create a new life in the newly established state of Israel.Erwin doesn’t remember much about his journey across Europe when the war ended because he spent most of it asleep, carried by other survivors as they emerged from their hiding places or were liberated from the camps and made their way to Naples, where they filled refugee camps and wondered what was to become of them. Erwin becomes part of a group of boys being rigorously trained both physically and mentally by an emissary from Palestine for life in their new home. When he and his fellow clandestine immigrants are released by British authorities from their detention camp near Haifa, they are assigned to a kibbutz, where they learn how to tend the land and speak their new language. But a part of Erwin clings to the past—to memories of his parents, his mother tongue, the Ukrainian city where he was born—and he knows that despite what he is being told, who he was is just as important as who he is becoming. When he is wounded in an engagement with snipers, Erwin spends months trying to regain the use of his legs. As he exercises his body, he exercises his mind as well, copying passages from the Bible in his newly acquired Hebrew and working up the courage to create his own texts in this language both old and new, hoping to succeed as a writer where his beloved, tormented father had failed. With the support of his friends and the encouragement of his mother (who visits him in his dreams), Erwin takes his first tentative steps with his crutches—and with his pen. Once again, Aharon Appelfeld mines personal experience to create dazzling, masterly fiction with a universal resonance.