There are those who will read All Whom I Have Loved and remark that this, Appelfeld’s most recent novel, resonates with scenes from The Story of a Life published in 2004. Others will argue that this novel is written, as all of his others, in the same poignant, minimalist style for which he has become known. And, there are still more who would contend that in this novel, Appelfeld concentrates on the time period just prior to World War II, on burgeoning anti-Semitism, and on the struggle of Paul Rosenfeld, a nine-yearold boy in an uncompromising world. In fact, the novel is all this and more.
As with all Appelfeld’s novels, there are subtle subtexts worthy of mention. Paul’s physical journeys, tedious and traumatic, trigger his tenuous emotions. Because his parents are divorced, his relationship with each is troubled: his feelings for his mother are oedipal and for his father judgmental and critical. Never far from the surface is Paul’s curiosity about Judaism and his confusions about the secular world. In presenting Paul’s parents as orphans, Appelfeld alludes to the Jewish obligation to care for abandoned children. In the end, Paul is also orphaned, which succeeds in illustrating the effects of separation and remoteness on the life of a nine-year-old asthmatic Jewish boy.
“Home” is an unstable place, sometimes even a figment of Paul’s imagination; displacement, on the other hand, with its shifting patterns, locales, and people, are his reality. The novel, then, is as the title suggests: a story of all whom (Appelfeld, perhaps) has loved. It is a story of loss and loneliness and of maturation and destitution. And, as Paul remarks, it is “not really about a journey so much as it was about being pulled away from everything…”