Laish

Laish

by Aharon Appelfeld
     
 

A caravan of Jews wanders through Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth century on a heartbreaking quest. Spiritual seekers and the elderly, widows and orphans, the sick and the dying, con artists and adventurers, victims of pogroms who have no place else to go–they are all on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but the journey is filled with unexpected

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Overview

A caravan of Jews wanders through Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth century on a heartbreaking quest. Spiritual seekers and the elderly, widows and orphans, the sick and the dying, con artists and adventurers, victims of pogroms who have no place else to go–they are all on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but the journey is filled with unexpected detours and unanticipated disaster.

Among them is Laish, a fifteen-year-old orphan, through whose eyes we observe the interactions within this ragtag group of dreamers, holy men, misfits, and thieves as they battle with one another, try to stay one step ahead of the gendarmes, and do what little they can to keep up their flagging spirits. With the death of the rabbi who brought the group together, they are now led by men whom Laish refers to as “the dealers”–black-market traders whose motives are questionable but who periodically infuse the group with the money they need to get to the next town.

Years pass, tempers start to fray, and the caravan grows smaller as people die or abandon the venture. A brutal winter and typhoid epidemic further decimate the ranks, and the pilgrims have begun to reach the limits of their endurance. The dream of Jerusalem keeps the remnant going, and against all odds they finally arrive–emotionally and physically exhausted–at the port city of Galacz. They see their ship in the harbor, but whether they will actually make it onto that ship is suddenly and tragically thrown into doubt.

This magnificent new novel from Aharon Appelfeld (“One of the greatest writers of the age” —The Guardian) resonates with a universality of experience: the will to survive, the struggle to hold on to hope.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The appearance of simplicity, the look of unpremeditated speech, is of course a familiar paradox, the result of care and control, and the success with which it is achieved, and the art disguised, is one of the most notable and impressive features of this strikingly original novel, comparable in its way though very different in tone, to some of the early work of Ernest Hemingway . . . . Very powerfully, this wandering community is made to represent the historic Jewish quest for a home . . . . [A ] remarkable novel.”
The New York Times Book Review

"Philip Roth has remarked that Appelfeld's fiction hovers 'midway between parable and history'—an apt description of this beautiful, dreamlike novel."
Ha'aretz
 
"[A] melancholy yet lyrical narrative, part picaresque novel and part enigmatic fable . . . . Mixing memory and imagination, Appelfeld produces a kind of timeless fictional realm . . . . There are gems to discover along its winding path."
Forward
 
"The narrative of these desperate pilgrims trying to reach the Holy Land is vintage Appelfeld:  equal parts fable, folktale, Torah, and Kafka . . . rendered with the author's trademark precision. . . . In his growing body of fiction–a novelistic kaddish–Appelfeld employs the right words, the only words, to pass along the story that should never have been. Being labeled a Holocaust writer might irritate Appelfeld, but no living novelist—not Elie Wiesel, not Amos Oz—better chronicles the spiritual vacuum and extreme disorientation that ensued in the aftermath of Auschwitz. Whatever critics choose to call him, we require his witness."
—bookforum.com
 
 "Concentration camp survivor Appelfeld delivers a beautifully written, deeply disturbing tale of pilgrims en route to Jerusalem in pre-WW II Eastern Europe . . . . His gorgeous writing creates a stirring atmosphere, while Laish's observations and experiences illustrate some harsh truths about survival."
Publisher's Weekly
 
"A quite narrative of high expectation and muted desperation . . . . Appelfeld writes in an unadorned yet forceful style . . . that is, paradoxically, low-key and intense."
Kirkus Reviews
 

Barry Unsworth
The bareness of style and absence of ornament oblige the reader to an active imaginative collaboration, endowing Laish's account with a feeling of total honesty, of being impelled by the pressures of circumstance, not elaborated beforehand, almost improvised. The appearance of simplicity, the look of unpremeditated speech, is, of course, by a familiar paradox, the result of care and control, and the success with which it is achieved, and the art disguised, is one of the most notable and impressive features of this strikingly original novel, comparable in its way, though very different in tone, to some of the early work of Ernest Hemingway, which Appelfeld has said was a formative influence.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Concentration camp survivor Appelfeld delivers a beautifully written, deeply disturbing tale of pilgrims en route to Jerusalem in pre-WWII Eastern Europe. Narrator Laish is a 15-year-old orphan employed by Fingerhut, a sickly and unpleasant "man of means." But when Fingerhut dies, Laish is forced to fend for himself among the pilgrims, finding work with the pious "old men" who teach him the Torah; Ploosh, a driver who kills one of the other members of the convoy; and Sruel, a former inmate who has a special connection with animals. As the journey wears on and the elements and sickness take their toll, the pilgrims reveal themselves to be a gallery of grotesques: they steal from each other, keep a mentally ill woman in a cage (and drive her out when she becomes too much trouble), sell one another out and are brutes in general. Appelfeld's gorgeous writing creates a stirring atmosphere, while Laish's observations and experiences illustrate some harsh truths about survival. (Mar.)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780805241594
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/10/2009
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)

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