The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping

Aharon Appelfeld, trans. from the Hebrew by Jeffrey M. Green. Schocken, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8052-4319-2
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 Erwin has withdrawn into prolonged slumber after suffering deprivation and the loss of family during World War II.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.)
Reviewed on: 11/28/2016
Release date: 01/31/2017
Genre: Fiction
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