Blooms of Darkness
Translated by Jeffrey M. Green
WINNER OF THE INDEPENDENT FICTION PRIZE 2012
The ghetto in which the Jews have been confined is being liquidated by the Nazis, and eleven-year-old Hugo is brought by his mother to the local brothel, where one of the prostitutes has agreed to hide him. Mariana is bitterly unhappy and hates what she has done to her life, and night after night Hugo sits in her closet and listens uncomprehendingly as she rages at the Nazi soldiers who come and go. But she is fiercely protective of the bewildered, painfully polite young boy. And Hugo becomes protective of Mariana too, trying to make her laugh when she is depressed, soothing her physical and mental agony with cold compresses. As the memories of his family and friends grow dim, Hugo falls in love with Mariana. And as her life spirals downwards, Mariana reaches out for consolation to the adoring boy who is on the cusp of manhood.
Aharon Appelfeld once again crafts out of the depths of unfathomable tragedy a renewal of life and a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.
Aharon Appelfeld is fiction’s foremost chronicler of the Holocaust. The stories he tells, as here in Blooms of Darkness, are small, intimate, and quietly narrated and yet are transfused into searing works of art by Appelfeld’s profound understanding of loss, pain, cruelty and grief.
The parents’ dilemma of how to live with horror and what to tell the children; Hugo’s inexorable forgetting; the inability to understand what you fear […] all are caught in Appelfeld’s glancing, delicate prose.
Appelfeld's tale of a horrific period in history and his ability to understand and convey the pain and suffering of the Jews, gives this account of a well-chronicled period a freshness and depth rarely found.
The Good Book Guide
His fiction – with Blooms of Darkness in its front rank – continues to mine depths and bring us blazing light from them. As a laboratory, and testing-ground, of human nature in its occasional glory and frequent shame, the wild child's adventures remain inexhaustible.
Independent Radar Magazine
What's so extraordinary about it is the way it continues to unfold and grow in the imagination long after you put it down. It's so sparely told, but Appelfeld somehow manages to fold entire stories into the silences between each chapter – each paragraph, even. It deserves to become a classic.
Independent Foreign Fiction Prize judge and writer Hephzibah Anderson
With short, simple sentences and a brisk pace, the effect of this novel is reminiscent of a film, except that a film would place greater emphasis on dramatic incident and the horror of the situation. As readers, we are left to reflect on such matters for ourselves.
Aharon Appelfeld is the author of more than forty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Blooms of Darkness (winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize), Badenheim 1939, The Iron Tracks (winner of the National Jewish Book Award), and Tzili: The Story of a Life (winner of the Prix Médicis Étranger). Other honours he has received include the Giovanni Bocaccio Literary Prize, the Nelly Sachs Prize, the Israel Prize, the Bialik Prize, and the MLA Commonwealth Award.