Overview

Fleeing an abusive home, Katerina, a teenage peasant in Ukraine in the 1880s, is taken in by a Jewish family and becomes their housekeeper. Feeling the warmth of family life for the first time and incorporating the family’s customs and rituals into her own Christian observances, Katerina is traumatized when the parents are murdered in separate pogroms and the children are taken away by relatives. She finds work with other Jewish families, all of whom are subjected to relentless persecution by their neighbors. ...
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Katerina

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Overview

Fleeing an abusive home, Katerina, a teenage peasant in Ukraine in the 1880s, is taken in by a Jewish family and becomes their housekeeper. Feeling the warmth of family life for the first time and incorporating the family’s customs and rituals into her own Christian observances, Katerina is traumatized when the parents are murdered in separate pogroms and the children are taken away by relatives. She finds work with other Jewish families, all of whom are subjected to relentless persecution by their neighbors. When the beloved child she had with her Jewish lover is murdered, Katerina kills the murderer and is sent to prison. Released from prison years later, in the chaos following the end of World War II, a now elderly Katerina is devastated to find a world that has been emptied of its Jews and that is not at all sorry to see them gone. Ever the outsider, Katerina realizes that she has survived only to bear witness to the fact that these people had ever existed at all.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

As an old woman, a gentile peasant from the Ukraine reminisces about the most touching and cruel events in her life: leaving home at an early age; working as a housekeeper in a Jewish household; learning to love the family--and, moreso, their beliefs--and the pain she ultimately endures because of that love.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With piercing clarity, Israeli novelist Appelfeld tells the profoundly moving story of Katerina, a Polish housekeeper who works for a succession of Jewish families in the years before WW II. Raised in a culture permeated with virulent anti-Semitism, she must constantly try to overcome the prejudice instilled by her bitter mother, who beat her, and her callous father, who attempted to rape her. One by one, Jewish people who are good to Katerina die: an employer murdered by thugs on Passover; a moody, perfectionistic female pianist. Then her own baby, whom she has raised as a Jew, is snatched from her arms and killed. For knifing her son's murderer, Katerina spends more than 40 years in prison. Other inmates cheer as freight trains take Jews to concentration camps. Released from prison, Katerina lives in a hut on her deceased family's deserted farm and, at age 79, narrates her life story, lamenting that ``there are no more victims in the world, only murderers.'' A theme that might be didactic in the hands of a lesser novelist is here conveyed with moving, unpreachy simplicity. This masterful novel is a powerful study of the poison of prejudice, a poignant meditation on life's horrors, beauty and God's inscrutable ways. Appelfeld imbues every scene with deep humanity in a riveting tale of universal appeal. (July)
Library Journal
Whether anticipating the Holocaust or assessing its consequences, Appelfeld's novels read like fables: dreamy, almost otherworldly in tone, they nevertheless deliver sharp moral lessons. In his most recent work, Katerina abandons her backward village and is eventually taken in as a servant by a Jewish family. This wayward gentile girl learns to love the Jews and their customs even as they face obliteration throughout Europe. When a peasant from her village kills the child she has had with a Jewish lover, Katerina counterattacks--and becomes Katerina the murderer. Released from prison at war's end, she concludes that ``there are no longer any Jews left . . . but a little of them is buried in my memory.'' In fact, the importance of memory is stressed throughout this unsettling novel, which contrasts Jewish rootedness in an ongoing spirituality with the free-floating vacuousness that allows gentiles mindlessly to hate Jews. Appelfeld's misty prose at times seems unmoored, but he gracefully delivers the little details that make evil what it is. This is recommended for all literary collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/91.-- Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''
Johathan Yardley
"Katerina is a fable, almost dreamlike in mood and language. Appelfeld draws the reader entirely into his world and makes that world seem utterly real; he works a kind of magic...." -- The Washington Post
Judith Grossman
"With Katerina, Mr. Appelfeld reimagines the place of his own origins...through a perspective that in its generousity of feelings recalls the great Russians: the later Tolstoy and Chekhov...." -- The New York Times Book Review
Anne Roithe
"Read this book....think what a gift of lyric language and style, of emotion purified by pain this is. Be happy in the artist and the man who wrote this. Be happy for us all." -- The Los Angeles Times
From the Publisher
“Read this book . . . Think what a gift of lyric language and style, of emotion purified by pain this is.”
—Anne Roiphe, Los Angeles Times

“Appelfeld reimagines the place of his own origins through a perspective that in its generosity of feeling recalls Tolstoy and Chekhov.”
—Judith Grossman, The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307486707
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/23/2009
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 752,665
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Aharon Appelfeld is the award-winning author of more than twenty internationally acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction, including Badenheim 1939, Tzili, The Iron Tracks, and The Story of a Life. He lives in Jerusalem.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    terrific insightful historical

    Sixty-three years ago then teenager Katerina left her Ukraine village because her father¿s mountain of a second wife makes her uncomfortable with her demands and she fears the changes in her father since her mom died. She travels to Poland where she obtains work as a housekeeper to different Jewish families. Katerina finds her hosts treat her with respect and kindness unlike her own blood she is horrified with how the non-Jewish Poles mistreat her employers even getting away with murder. --- When her son, raised Jewish, is killed, she knifes his murderer. Of course killing a Jew is not necessarily a crime, but killing the killer is so Katerina spends the next four decades incarcerated. She is shocked during World War II when her fellow prisoners gleefully applaud the transporting of the Jews to concentration camps. When the war ends, Katerina is freed and returns to her Ukraine family farm knowing no Jews live in Europe except those from her memories occupying a major place in her heart and soul as she writes her life¿s lament while closing in on her eightieth birthday. --- KATERINA is a terrific insightful look at a woman who believes one must never forget those you love martyred in your soul by a world filled with morally always right killers. The sad Katerina knows first hand that intolerance and prejudice in any form murders even the innocent. Aharon Appelfeld provides a strong poignant reflection on life and death. --- Harriet Klausner

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