Aaron Appelfeld has a well-established narrative pattern in many of his novels: the son of a beautiful mother traveling to some destination. In their progress, many odd and disjointed things are seen and heard, and harbingers for some terrible event that will happen later in the novel are found throughout.
To the Land of the Cattails follows this pattern exactly. For frequent readers of Appelfeld’s fiction, there is not much new here, or much to learn. I do not know much of the secondary literature about Appelfeld; no doubt this trend is commented upon by Hebrew language critics. I know that Appelfeld lost his mother early in the war, while his father survived. In all the novels along these narrative lines, the father is a distant figure. He is either not present, or an infrequent guest.
In the end, there is only doom. Even if Appelfeld does not name the Holocaust or Nazis in his novels (and in Cattails he does not) frequent readers know what will happen.
The take away: only read a few Appelfeld novels, or grow accustomed to watching an author work out a primary theme many times, trying to perfect it.