'The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger --- nothing ever comes out for the poor.' - Pope Francis

Books

Badenheim 1939

Aharon Appelfeld

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Apr 21, 2014
Category: Fiction

The Pied Piper of Park Avenue: The New York Observer has just published Episode 1 of my multi-part series, “The Pied Piper of Park Avenue.” It’s got private school kids, agitated parents, baffled school administrators, gobs of money, and some New Yorkers you might know. To read it, click here.
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Bargain: Amazon is selling the Yamaha Micro Component System — list price $400 — for $150.
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Aharon Appelfeld, one of Israel’s greatest writers, has had only a handful of his 40 books translated into English. It’s too bad. Then again, it’s too bad Appelfeld didn’t write "Badenheim 1939" under the pen name "Albert Camus" — if he had, this 148-page novel would be taught alongside "The Stranger" and regarded, rightly, as a modern classic.

More remarkable than Appelfeld’s small audience in America is the simple fact he’s alive. Born in Romania in 1932, he was a quiet boy, an only child. He was just 8 when the Nazis shot his mother and deported him and his father to a concentration camp in the Ukraine, at which point they were separated for twenty years. Aharon escaped to Russia, where he was a shepherd. In 1944, at 12, he joined the Russian Army. When the war ended, he made his way to Italy and, finally, to Palestine. He spoke so many languages he couldn’t express himself in any. And he had only a year or two of schooling. But he managed to enroll in college in Jerusalem and, soon after, to begin writing stories in Hebrew.

Appelfeld has one great subject: understanding what happened to his people. "I’m dealing with a civilization that has been killed," he has said. "How to represent it in the most honorable way — not to equalize it, not to exaggerate, but to find the right proportion to represent it, in human terms." What kept him from depression, bitterness, suicide? "I’ve never been an angry person. This is what saved me." [To buy "Badenheim 1939" from Amazon, click here.]

"Badenheim 1939" — the first of Appelfeld’s books to be translated from Hebrew to English — is a precise, even-handed tale. As it should be; this is a simple story, of a single season in a resort town favored by Jews. As the novel begins, Spring has arrived. So have the musicians. And the first tourists.

Dr. Pappenheim is the local impresario; he’s all bustle. Expect to see him at the Post Office, sending telegrams and opening letters. But this season is unlike all others. For one thing, the Sanitation Department has increased powers — it’s now authorized to undertake "independent investigations." For reasons not made clear, these investigations include the construction of fences and rolls of barbed wire. Appliances appear, "suggestive of preparations for a public celebration." The visitors to the resort expect "fun and games."

And, indeed, the office of the Sanitation Department is starting to look like a travel agency, thanks to the new signs: "The air in Poland is fresher" and "Get to know the Slavic Culture" and "Labor is our Life." There’s plenty of time to think about those signs; walks are now forbidden, guests must stay on the grounds of the hotel. It’s a nice break in a dull day when the Sanitation Department puts maps on Poland on sale.

The Post Office closes. Just as well. No mail is arriving — and who knows if letters are getting out? But more people suddenly show up, all of them Jews. Here for the Music Festival? Apparently not. 

And now it’s Fall. The cakes of summer are no more. Ditto cigarettes. Lunch is barley soup and dry bread. Concern? Bad dreams? Of course. But no one can really believe that what is happening is more than an inconvenience. At worst, a mistake.

At last a train appears at the station. An engine with four filthy freight cars. The last paragraph shows how the worst thing you can imagine can be sold to you as something else. How easily you and yours can be lost. And, in one of the greatest sentences ever to end a book, how you can go to your doom still believing it’s all going to be okay.

Short takes

Caffeine Hit (Crank the volume): The Motors, ‘Love and Loneliness’

You used to think that love was worth the time
When love was all we had
We didn’t need distractions all the time
Or being made to laugh
And then you said we had to build a home
And love alone could not provide
You said that money would never get us down
You didn’t know you lied
Now loneliness is there despite the love we make
And loneliness knows where to find the friends we make
And the place we live is just a new street number
On an old address called Love and Loneliness

Reader Mail (Advertisements for myself)

From Paul Zengilowski

My children will turn 19 and 21 in a few weeks and the birthday gift choice falls to me. My wife and I bought them books by the bushel when they were young — some they chose, more often though, we exercised our parental prerogative. That stopped as they entered their mid-teens and felt more confident in their choices than in ours.

I’ve not bought them books in years — with two exceptions. The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, by Andrew Tobias, was a high school graduation gift. Knowing that having the money talk with them would be fruitless, I passed on to them my financial bible. I’d read it when it was first issued and it has served to keep me mostly on the financial straight and narrow over the last 30 years.

The second exception is their birthday present for this year: The 100 Essentials.

Should they read only those two books, I’m confident they’ll enter adulthood with important and foundational knowledge that will serve them well. Of course, I couldn’t help but thumb through the books when they arrived today and landed on the review of Hard Bargain by Emmylou Harris and your interview with her. What a remarkable woman and a great conversation — incredibly well done on your part.

I’m confident that between here and when we deliver the books in a couple weeks, I’ll have read one copy cover to cover and discovered or rediscovered a treasure of music, movies and books myself. I’m so glad you put this together – thanks for the assist with introducing my children to your great work and especially “The 100 Essentials.”

From Marcie

You recommended Queen’s Gambit to me about six weeks ago when I asked for the most grabable book you could think of. I loved it. It’s difficult to articulate precisely what the dark magic of that book is, but I found it fascinating — the characters, all of them, were like no others I’ve encountered. The relationship between Beth and her adopted mother was so subtle. I love that Tevis never capitulates to cliché or sentimentality. Elegant. Thank you for urging me to read it.

Do not think for a second you will watch this only once

The band is Future Islands. Mesmerizing at the start, eye-popping at the end — watching Sam Herring is like watching the young Brando. On tour now. April 30 in New York already sold out. It’s like that. So… full screen. Maximum volume.

Available: Fantastic NYC Caregiver

One reason our daughter writes “I am awesome” on snow-covered cars in winter is because Opal Campbell was her caregiver for her first five years. Opal is loving but firm, full of plans and adventures that kids love, steady, honest — we have nothing but praise for her. She’s now looking for full or part-time work, ideally in Manhattan. Write me or call her at 917-533-3487.