Fic­tion

Laish

Aharon Appelfeld
  • Review
By – January 9, 2012
Next year in Jerusalem,” the tra­di­tion­al phrase that con­cludes the Passover seder, takes unique form and shape in Aharon Appelfeld’s newest nov­el, Laish, and in that way, iden­ti­fies this nov­el as a rad­i­cal depar­ture from all that Appelfeld has writ­ten until now. 

Laish is a trav­el nar­ra­tive told in the voice and through the lens of a fif­teen-year-old orphaned boy. It is the sto­ry of a group of Jew­ish pil­grims who, in a car­a­van of six wag­ons, make their way to Jerusalem — an ever­chang­ing col­lec­tion of peo­ple who must take des­per­ate mea­sures in des­per­ate times. Still, it speaks far more of the real­i­ties — the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of the jour­ney — than it does about the real­iza­tion of the destination. 

In what appears to be an inten­tion­al ref­er­ence to the Next year in Jerusalem” motif, Appelfeld is delib­er­ate in his con­tin­u­al men­tion of the Riv­er Prut. Just as Psalm 137 speaks of the rivers of Baby­lon” and reminds the Jews to always remem­ber Jerusalem, Appelfeld repeat­ed­ly iden­ti­fies the Riv­er Prut as the caravan’s guid­ing force: direc­tion­al­ly, it serves as their path; intel­lec­tu­al­ly, it is their reminder of the ulti­mate goal. 

Those famil­iar with the genre of trav­el writ­ing will imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nize Appelfeld’s atten­tion to its para­me­ters, for in this nov­el, as in most trav­el writ­ing, the read­er is made aware of place, dis­tance, social hier­ar­chies, and politi­co- social envi­ron­ments. What makes this nov­el dif­fer­ent is that it is about a Jew­ish jour­ney, pop­u­lat­ed by Jew­ish peo­ple who, indi­vid­u­al­ly and col­lec­tive­ly, remem­ber that if I for­get you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.”
Malv­ina D. Engel­berg, an inde­pen­dent schol­ar, has taught com­po­si­tion and lit­er­a­ture at the uni­ver­si­ty lev­el for the past fif­teen years. She is a Ph.D. can­di­date at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Miami.

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