Friday, June 8, 2012

Art Can Help: Aharon Appelfeld's For Every Sin

Aharon Appelfeld’s For Every Sin follows the fruitless wandering of a camp survivor immediately following the war.  The novel is filled with dreary landscapes and details, and exhausted survivors of the camps who have little motivation to move on.  They drink coffee, eat food, and are shocked and numbed by their experiences.

The young protagonist of this novel is set on going back to his hometown, even though, in more sober moments, he realizes that his entire family is dead.  One idea keeps him going: the notion that he will convert to Christianity, which was dear to his mother’s heart, although she remained a Jew.

The theme of this novel is one of the elements that often makes some Jewish critics angry at Appelfeld’s books.  The main character is obsessed with being alone (away from refugees, which means away from Jews) and he sees in Christianity the perfect vehicle for this quest conversion.  Then he can be alone, in a religion that fosters solitude.  Here, critics complain, is a self-hating Jew.

But what critics fall to see is the delusion that Appelfeld is well aware of, and capitalizes in the narrative.  There is no way out of being Jewish, just as there is no way out of being a former victim of the Holocaust.  Ultimately, art can help; the ability to write, to explore a the world of words and their possible solutions, holds the key. 

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