Suddenly, Love

Overview

A poignant, heartbreaking new work by “one of the best novelists alive” (Irving Howe)—the story of a lonely older man and his devoted young caretaker who transform each other’s lives in ways they could never have imagined.
 
Ernst is a gruff seventy-year-old Red Army veteran from Ukraine who landed, almost by accident, in Israel after World War II. A retired investment adviser, he lives alone (his first wife and baby daughter were killed ...

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Suddenly, Love

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Overview

A poignant, heartbreaking new work by “one of the best novelists alive” (Irving Howe)—the story of a lonely older man and his devoted young caretaker who transform each other’s lives in ways they could never have imagined.
 
Ernst is a gruff seventy-year-old Red Army veteran from Ukraine who landed, almost by accident, in Israel after World War II. A retired investment adviser, he lives alone (his first wife and baby daughter were killed by the Nazis; he divorced his shrewish second wife) and spends his time laboring over his unpublished novels. Irena, in her mid-thirties, is the unmarried daughter of Holocaust survivors who has been taking care of Ernst since his surgery two years earlier; she arrives every morning promptly at eight and usually leaves every afternoon at three. Quiet and shy, Irena is in awe of Ernst’s intellect. And as the months pass, Ernst comes to depend on the gentle young woman who runs his house, listens to him read from his work, and occasionally offers a spirited commentary on it.
 
But Ernst’s writing gives him no satisfaction, and he is haunted by his godless, Communist past. His health, already poor, begins to deteriorate even further; he becomes mired in depression and seems to lose the will to live. But this is something Irena will not allow. As she becomes an increasingly important part of his life—moving into his home, encouraging him in his work, easing his pain—Ernst not only regains his sense of self and discovers the path through which his writing can flow but he also discovers, to his amazement, that Irena is in love with him. And, even more astonishing, he realizes that he is in love with her, too.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Mary Gordon
…remarkable…it is in exploring Ernst's struggles with language that Appelfeld, with a light, supremely tactful touch, addresses the problem that is the curse and blessing of all writers: how, in Beckett's words, to fail, "fail again, fail better"…In treating the largest of possible subjects—life, death, faith, language, identity, ethical responsibility—Appelfeld is one with Emily Dickinson's directive, "Tell all the truth but tell it slant." Suddenly, Love is a brilliantly hybrid creature: It has the real-life detail of the traditional novel, but it also makes us travel into the worlds of folk tales and magic, prayers and dreams.
Publishers Weekly
02/24/2014
This compact novel by prolific Israeli author Appelfeld (The Iron Tracks) movingly embraces the themes of love, faith, and redemption between two disparate Jewish generations. Ernst Blumenfeld, 70, is divorced and resides in Jerusalem. He retired from a brokerage firm and is now a frustrated novelist. Two years prior, he hired Irena, a single 36-year-old woman who only finished the 10th grade, to work as his housekeeper and caretaker, and they became friends. An ardent Communist who persecuted the Jews in his youth in the Ukraine, Ernst grew estranged from his Jewish shopkeeper parents and served with distinction in the Red Army during the Second World War. Now he’s ill, he suffers from bouts of depression, and he’s haunted by his past; he fights these afflictions by penning his memoir. Unlike Ernst, Irena enjoyed a warm relationship with her late parents, who were Auschwitz survivors. She understands Ernst’s need to make peace with his past, and she inspires him as “the gateway to life.” Ernst passionately writes about his idyllic boyhood spent with his grandparents in the Carpathian Mountains, and he and Irena fall in love. As Ernst’s health worsens, the steadfast Irena only grows more protective of him. Appelfeld tells their affecting tale told in clean, spare prose. (May)
From the Publisher
“The questions Suddenly, Love poses are not only those of Jewish displacement, Jewish memory, and Jewish identity. Woven in are also questions of language, of the proper relationship of words to life. . . . In treating the largest of possible subjects—life, death, faith, language, identity, ethical responsibility—Appelfeld is one with Emily Dickinson’s directive, ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant.’ Suddenly, Love is a brilliantly hybrid creature: It has the real-life detail of the traditional novel, but it also make us travel into the worlds of folk tales and magic, prayers and dreams. All this is accomplished with deftness and clarity.”
—Mary Gordon, The New York Times Book Review

Suddenly, Love has all the wisdom, compassion, restraint, and exquisite clarity we have come to expect from Appelfeld. . . . It is a powerful story of redemption through faith and love . . . the product of an extraordinarily creative imagination.”
Haaretz (Tel Aviv)

“At the end of this spare, slender novel, both Ernst’s and Irena’s lives have been transformed. It isn’t far-fetched to suggest that, in some subtle way, the reader has been changed, too.”
—The Jewish Journal (Los Angeles)

“In a tradition that does not sacrifice reason but reveres it, that turns study itself into a sacred activity, does goodness still look like simplicity, or does it take other forms? These are the fascinating questions posed by Suddenly, Love.”
—Tablet

“The novel’s obvious virtues include Appelfeld’s characteristically spare, stripped-down prose, rendered in Jeffrey M. Green’s elegant translation, and the narrative’s seamless interweaving of past and present. . . . In this borderland between life and death, memory and imagination, [Ernst and Irena] fashion a love story that, however unlikely, will move all but the most skeptical of readers.”
—The Boston Globe
 
Suddenly, Love spotlights Appelfeld’s genius for depicting a quietude of soul in a world that oscillates between rasp and ruin. In its murmured telling, it becomes a deeply interior hymn to the sustaining, ballasting brew of loyalty and affection. . . . Appelfeld has always been a master of the subtle, Chekhovian misunderstandings between individuals.”
—The New Republic

“A quiet, moving, and utterly convincing story about the growing love between an aging author and his companion. . . . Appelfeld writes simply but gorgeously about important things, and the translation is particularly graceful and supple.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“A quiet, contemplative story about empathy, connection, and finding love when you least expect it. Readers of Amos Oz and A. B. Yehoshua will enjoy Appelfeld’s storytelling.”
—Library Journal
 
“This compact novel movingly embraces the themes of love, faith, and redemption between two disparate Jewish generations. . . . Appelfeld tells the affecting tale in clean, spare prose.”
Publishers Weekly

———————————————————-
More praise for
AHARON APPELFELD

Until the Dawn’s Light

“With a deftness that allows single words to suggest volumes of emotional complication, Appelfeld draws us into this young mother’s story . . . [A] remarkable novel . . . Masterly and finely wrought.”
—Julie Orringer, The New York Times Book Review
 
Blooms of Darkness
“Like Anne Frank’s diary—a work to which it will draw justified comparison—Blooms of Darkness records a brutal process of education [through which] Appelfeld reveals his compassion, his wisdom, and his restraint . . . Majestic and humane.”
David Leavitt, The New York Times Book Review
 
Laish
“The appearance of simplicity is, of course, the result of care and control, and the success with which it is achieved 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.”
—Barry Unsworth, The New York Times Book Review
 
All Whom I Have Loved
“Poetic in his instincts, Appelfeld has an artfully spare writing style, pregnant in its imagery, intentionally coy in its resonance.”
Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review
 
The Iron Tracks
“Appelfeld is a writer of genuine distinction who has transformed his own experience into literature of exceptional clarity and power.”
Jonathan Rosen, The New York Times Book Review
 
Katerina
“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

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-03-13
A quiet, moving and utterly convincing story about the growing love between an aging author and his companion. Seventy when the novel opens, Ernst is a retired investment adviser who has been married twice. His first wife and their baby daughter were killed by the Nazis, and his second marriage was a mistake whose pain still torments him. At first abrupt, if not downright curmudgeonly, Ernst goes to a cafe in his Jerusalem neighborhood every morning and then spends hours writing. He's not in robust health, so he hires Irena as a companion to supervise his care. Irena is 36 and has a simple faith far different from the angst that has bedeviled Ernst. As a boy, he rejected Judaism, much to the distress of his father, and joined the Communist Party. Eventually he became a member of the Red Army, a time that he still recalls with fondness due to its clarity: "You know who's a friend and who's a foe." Over time, however, he rejected communism and rediscovered the faith of his ancestors. In fact, much of the writing that now preoccupies him involves reminiscences of his devout grandfather in the Carpathian Mountains in Czernowitz (now in Ukraine and, perhaps not so coincidentally, where Appelfeld was born). Although he initially instructs Irena to destroy his manuscripts after his death because he doesn't "want strangers to grope [his] writings," over time he begins to read her excerpts, and she finds in his work a remarkable sensibility, both tender and kind. As Ernst's health continues to deteriorate, his need to record his memories grows more desperate, and he begins to rely ever more on Irena as an empathetic listener, eventually finding in her presence "the gateway to life." Appelfeld writes simply but gorgeously about important things, and the translation is particularly graceful and supple.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805242959
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/6/2014
  • Edition description: Translatio
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 98,398
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

AHARON APPELFELD is the author of more than forty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Badenheim 1939, The Iron Tracks (winner of the National Jewish Book Award), The Story of a Life (winner of the Prix Médicis Étranger), and Until the Dawn’s Light (winner of the National Jewish Book Award). Other honors he has received include the Giovanni Boccaccio Literary Prize, the Nelly Sachs Prize, the Israel Prize, the Bialik Prize, and the MLA Commonwealth Award. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received honorary degrees from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, and Yeshiva University. Born in Czernowitz, Bukovina (now part of Ukraine), in 1932, he lives in Israel.

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Read an Excerpt

1
 
Ernst turned seventy, and for his birthday Irena baked a cheesecake and decorated it with strawberries.
 
“Happy birthday,” she says and places the cake on the table.
 
“At my age, one no longer celebrates,” says Ernst without looking at her.
 
“That’s not true,” Irena replies, frightened by the words as they emerge from her mouth.
 
Irena has been working in Ernst’s house for two years, since his operation. She arrives every day at eight and leaves at three. Some days she stays longer. They speak little, but sometimes Ernst surprises Irena with a question, or an idea that is preoccupying him.
 
“Why did you think of baking a cake for me?” he asks without raising his eyes.
 
“I thought it would make you happy.” She answers in a full sentence.
 
“Me?”
 
“Cheesecake always makes people happy,” Irena says and is pleased with her reply.
 
“I enjoy a good cake,” Ernst says, “but it doesn’t make me happy.”
 
Irena doesn’t understand the difference and doesn’t answer.
 
“At my age happiness is tiring,” he adds.
 
A year earlier Ernst was still reserved with Irena, but her diligence and devotion won his heart. Now he leans forward to listen when she offers advice about the house or tells him about something she found interesting. But Irena speaks little. The few words that leave her mouth during the day are measured. She knows that Ernst doesn’t like to chat or tell jokes. He is pleased when she takes a hint or guesses instead of asking him straight out. Ernst constantly surprises Irena. Yesterday he told her, “I wouldn’t have wanted to live a different life.” For a moment she was perplexed. His life hasn’t been a bed of roses.
 
Irena sits in a corner without looking at Ernst. She likes to serve him food and wait for his reaction, but she is careful not to disturb his thoughts. Sometimes he sinks so much into himself that he forgets to eat. Ernst speaks to Irena in German, now and then with a Yiddish word and sometimes also a sentence in Hebrew. He says that his memory has weakened since the operation. Irena doesn’t notice that. The words that come from his mouth are clear, and she understands his requests without any explanation. She has noticed: Ernst seldom describes things, but sometimes he says something so fresh that it’s like a pear that was just peeled and placed on a plate. He also has little customs that she likes: putting on a hat before leaving the house, bowing when she hands him his walking stick.
 
“I never imagined I’d reach the age of seventy,” Ernst says, as though to himself.
 
“Thank God,” Irena cries out.
 
Ernst doesn’t like this display of religiosity, but he makes no comment.
 
“Seventy is a fine age,” she adds.
 
“It’s no different from any other age: you’re just weaker, and your memory betrays you more frequently.”
 
Irena doesn’t agree with him. Ernst is alert. He reads and writes. When he goes for a walk, his posture is erect and his bearing stands out.
 
“You say that seventy is a fine age.”
 
“Am I mistaken?” She responds immediately.
 
“Of course you’re mistaken.”
 
By now Irena knows that the word “mistaken” doesn’t always indicate disagreement. Sometimes it implies unspoken agreement with slight provocation.
 
The day is nearly over. Irena has tidied the kitchen and set the table for supper. She puts on her coat and wishes Ernst a good night.
 
The way home is not long. Irena lives in the Old Kata-mon neighborhood of Jerusalem, a twenty-minute walk from Ernst’s house. Not long ago, her life had been scattered, her days vexed and pointless. She used to stand in the street and wonder whether to take a long walk or return home. Now she walks slowly, a bit tired, but full of words and the sounds of words that she had absorbed during the day.
 
Irena’s apartment has three rooms, and a kitchen and a balcony. Here she grew up, and here her parents died. After their death she preserved their memory with little ceremonies she invented. Since she started working for Ernst, Irena has done less of that, but she still goes to the cemetery on their birthdays and on the anniversaries of their deaths. On the Sabbath and holidays she arranges the house exactly the way her mother did. But most of her thoughts are now devoted to Ernst. Sometimes, when her fears get the better of her, she goes back to visit him in the evening. She serves him a cup of tea or peels an apple for him. Since she started working for Ernst, Irena has stopped going downtown, and she doesn’t even go out for short strolls.

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