Suddenly, Love. Aharon Appelfeld.

Appelfeld, Aharon. Suddenly, Love. Schocken, New York 2014 (translated from original Hebrew 2003 by Jeffrey Green). Presume Hachette Digital retrieved for Kindle. F; 11/14.

This is another book suggested to me through reading the author interviews in Paris Review. Appelfeld is an older gentleman with many works of fiction under his belt, very Jewish, and either wonderfully innocent of modern popular politics or wonderfully intentionally dismissive of them.

Elderly writer Ernst and his housekeeper Irena slowly develop a romantic and spiritual relationship. The action is pretty much entirely psychological, with flashbacks into Ernst’s military and family background, and a lot of internal action on the part of Irena, remembering her parents and maintaining the home they built for her with great intensity and respect. Ernst develops an illness that sounds like a hematologic malignancy toward the end.

There is a thoroughgoing archaic, central or eastern European, and Jewish feel to this story. The author rolls right over political correctness in his description of the central relationship (he dominant and powerful, she happily submissive and helpful), and in discussion of Ernst’s military career, which he recalls with pleasure. Appelfeld is focused on effective description of a relationship’s development, and that succeeds quite nicely in the realistic context he creates.

Their parents contrast sharply, his terribly and apparently painfully silent, hers loving and nurturing. But Ernst’s grandfather is a great spiritual man from a small town who sees God in everything. At one point the grandfather tries to convince the peasant not to punish his daughter who has gone astray. There is no conclusion to this episode but we take from it terrific depth and humanity of the old man. He is the central inspiration for Ernst’s initially frustrated and eventually successful writing.

There is partly in discussion of dreams blurring of the boundary between the mundane and the spiritual world, and as the relationship develops, Ernst in parallel is able to tell the story of his grandfather and the spiritual life he remembers in the mountain village of his youth.

Appelfeld was 72 when he wrote this in 2003, and it’s clear that his character Ernst is over 70, and Irena about half his age. I couldn’t find much biographic detail about him, so not sure how autobiographical this is. The author was in Nazi concentration camps, and there is a horribly chilling description of Ernst’s first wife and little child driven to their death in a river by Germans, after he leaves them to fight on the Russian front, anticipating incorrectly that he would only be gone a short time.

This is a book, I found, that inspired more respect in me than any kind of literary excitement. 7.8/7.0

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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