cover image Until the Dawn’s Light

Until the Dawn’s Light

Aharon Appelfeld, trans. from the Hebrew by Jeffrey M. Green. Schocken, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8052-4179-2

Tense, occasionally heavy-handed, but ultimately compelling, the latest from Appelfeld (Blooms of Darkness) depicts the world of early 20th-century Austrian Jews, many of whom have abandoned their ancestral traditions and converted to Christianity. Tragic heroine Blanca will remind readers of Hardy’s luckless Tess, for Blanca’s essential decency and self-sacrificing attempts to do right end, fatefully and inexorably, in suffering. Through a journal she keeps for her four-year-old son, Otto, Blanca presents her story of unremitting, inexplicable misery. After the Jewish Blanca marries her gentile, ominously named high school classmate Adolf following a whirlwind (but remarkably unromantic) courtship, her life becomes unbearable. Blanca feels herself “enslaved,” trapped in a marriage to an abusive, bombastically anti-Semitic man. Though she feels hopeless after her mother’s death and her father’s tragic disappearance, the birth of her son renews Blanca’s strength and drives her to an act that will send her and Otto fleeing. As she tries to outrun her past, Blanca faithfully records her own history and surveys the loss of faith among Austrian Jews; with this, the story of one woman’s misfortune takes on the magnitude of history. (Oct.)