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The ghetto in which the Jews have been confined is being liquidated by the Nazis, and eleven-year-old Hugo is brought by his mother to the local brothel, where one of the prostitutes has agreed to hide him. Mariana is a bitterly unhappy woman who hates what she has done with her life, and night after night Hugo sits in her closet and listens uncomprehendingly as she rages at the Nazi soldiers who come and go. But when she’s not mired in self-loathing, Mariana is fiercely protective of the bewildered, painfully polite young boy. And Hugo, in turn, becomes protective of Mariana, trying to make her laugh when she is depressed, and soothing her physical and mental agony with cold compresses. As memories of his family and friends grow dim, Hugo falls in love with Mariana. And as her life spirals downward, Mariana reaches out for consolation to the adoring boy. The arrival of the Russian army sends the prostitutes fleeing, but Mariana is tracked down and arrested as a Nazi collaborator for having slept with the Germans. As the novel moves toward its heartrending conclusion, Aharon Appelfeld once again crafts out of the depths of unfathomable tragedy a renewal of life and a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.
“Majestic and humane . . . like Anne Frank’s diary—a work to which it will draw justified comparison.” —David Leavitt, The New York Times Book Review
“Appelfeld is fiction’s foremost chronicler of the Holocaust. The stories he tells, as here in Blooms of Darkness, are small, intimate, and quietly narrated and yet are transfused into searing works of art by Appelfeld’s profound understanding of loss, pain, cruelty, and grief.” —Philip Roth
“I love Aharon Appelfeld’s Blooms of Darkness. How can this great novelist still find fresh ways of telling the terrible story of those years? There’s nothing reflexive or familiar in here, each sentence is exquisitely judged; we read with the same astonishment and trepidation as if it was all happening now, and for the first time. It’s so sad, and yet it’s also all told through the child’s appetite for life, and with unquenched curiosity and hopefulness. We inhabit those things, taking refuge as Hugo does in the bliss of the moment—because, after all, what else is there?” —Tessa Hadley, “The Year in Reading,” The New Yorker
“Succeeds brilliantly as a gripping tale of Holocaust survival, but on this occasion, Appelfeld’s literary imagination achieves a great deal more, creating a lyrically rendered story of adolescent sexual awakening, confusion, and love that gestures toward the painful inevitability of loss in any life. Above all, as is often the case with Appelfeld’s most powerful works, Blooms of Darkness is an eloquent meditation on the resources of the mind, the consolations of memory, and the imagination under duress.” —The Forward
“An unadorned and heartbreaking tale of a young boy coming of age during World War II . . . Poignant and tender without being sentimental, the novel achieves its powerful emotive effects through simplicity and understatement—a beautiful read.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred
“A simple story that encapsulates the joy and sadness of a coming-of-age novel with the trauma of a world in the midst of destruction. The lean, spare prose does not shy away from harsh realities . . . A powerful novel.”