2011 Books in Translation Other Prizes

Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld

Blooms of Darkness Translated from the Hebrew by Jeffrey M. Green

Winner of the 2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

Five words from the blurb: Holocaust, Jewish, boy, hides, brothel

Blooms of Darkness is set during WWII and follows an eleven-year-old Jewish boy as he is forced to leave his family and hide from the Nazis in a brothel.

Blooms of Darkness is one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. It isn’t a roller coaster of emotions, it is an endlessly bleak book without a glimmer of hope anywhere. I think the fact it is narrated by an innocent child, separated from his friends and family, makes it have even more impact. The loneliness and grief were heartbreaking and the thought of any child growing up in such terrible circumstances is hard to take.

Very little happened, but the observations and emotions were powerful and realistic – the author’s own experiences as a Jewish boy in hiding gave this book a painful authenticity. The writing style was simple and quiet and it was surprising to see how distressing a book could be without actually containing any graphic scenes.  The fear of discovery and imagining what might have happened to loved ones was enough to give this book a terrible sense of impending doom:

Hugo refused to think about what had happened to Erwin in the ghetto. One night they sealed off the orphanage on all sides, took the orphans out of their beds, and loaded them onto trucks while they were still in their pyjamas. The orphans wept and cried out for help, but no one did anything. Anyone who opened a window or went out would be shot.

It seems wrong to criticise a book for revealing the painful truth, but the continual darkness was too much for me. I longed for a few lighter moments to penetrate the bleakness, but I guess I’ll just have to take comfort in the fact that I’m lucky enough to never have experienced anything like this.

Recommended to anyone who’d like to know what it is like to be a child living in constant fear, but I’m sure it will be too distressing for many.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

Aharon has shown why he considered one of the foremost Hebrew writers. Winstondad’s Blog

…there’s nothing in the novel which makes it stand out amongst its peers and competitors. Tony’s Reading List

It’s a sombre work, because it deals with the Holocaust, but it’s beautiful all the same… ANZ Litlovers Litblog



11 replies on “Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld”

Goodness. I guess we expect Holocaust books to be dire, but if it is heavier than most, I’m not sure I could get through it without going into a malaise! Are we ever in the mood for such a thing?

Sandy, This isn’t heavier than most and it didn’t contain any particularly disturbing scenes, it was just depressing throughout. I didn’t feel I learnt anything from the misery. Other books have had very disturbing scenes, but also included happier times or thought provoking sections. I can often be in the mood for those books, it is just the constant darkness I struggle with.

Mmm, I’m not too sure what to think here. This time I can’t quite figure out whether your rating was based on the fact that you didn’t like the book or whether you felt the book was too distressing and bleak to allocate more stars. Interesting. I never actually added this to my TBR pile as I had no desire to read “yet another” holocaust book, however, after reading your review, i am tempted to read this. (I cannot resist a book that evokes any kind of emotion; jolts me out of my comfort zone). Any book that can do this is my cup of tea. I will now need to read this to see if i can handle it AND give it top marks. Out of control reading list!!!!

Ifi, The lower star rating is due to a number of things. 1) I found the entire book depressing and so gained no enjoyment from reading it 2)This wasn’t offset by any new knowledge or perspective on life 3)The story was quite simple and so although the writing was good the structure wasn’t stunning. 4)There are a lot of better books on the Holocaust out there already. Hope that helps!

This book won’t jolt you out of your comfort zone, just slowly depress you! But I’d be interested to know your thoughts if you do decide to try it.

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