Aharon Appelfeld and the No-Bull Nobel

on Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Forget the Nobel and its puffy politicised pandering. When it comes to international prizes that truly reward bodies of work it is the relative newcomer that truly interests me. Now only onto its fifth cycle, the Man Booker International Prize seems a more varied and considered effort. The inaugural winner was Ismail Kadare, a thus far staggering oversight by the Swedish Academy. He was followed two years later by another literary lion, Chinua Achebe. Then came Alice Munro and, most recently, Philip Roth. For those of us who cry foul every November, the international Booker seems to consistently be getting it right.

This year's shortlist is typically exciting. The ten contenders include such heavy hitters as Vladamir Sorokin, Marilynne Robinson, Peter Stamm and Yan Lianke. But it is the oldest and perhaps quietest name on the list that I really hope bags it. Aharon Appelfeld is, in my humble opinion, the greatest ever survivor-novelist. Don't get me wrong. I'm not dissing Elie Wiesel or Primo Levi or any of the other amazing writers who have turned their experience into literature. But Appelfeld is something different. He is quiet, yet fierce. His depth of humanity knows no bounds. Most importantly, he possesses an eerie ability to convey the Nazi horror without ever needing to situate any of his books in a concentration camp.

Such is my love for the guy that when I am in Jerusalem I make a beeline for Tmol Shilshom, the quiet coffee shop (with amazing shakshuka) in which he is known to hang and, if apocryphal tales are to be believed, write. I have yet to see him, but I have definitely encountered other Appelfeld sycophants clearly waiting around hoping to catch a glimpse of this great man.

If you have never read him before, step away from your screen right now and hunt down a copy of Baddenheim 1939. It is probably the most revelatory Holocaust novel of all time and doesn't directly involve the Holocaust at all. Once you devour that and are desperate for more, check out The Iron Tracks, Tzili, The Retreat and his most recent novel to be translated Until the Dawn's Light. Then give up your day job for a while and read the rest of his books. He is that good. Hopefully the judges of the Man Booker International Prize agree with me.


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