29 July 2007

Aharon Appelfeld, Badenheim, 1939, 1975

The fictional Austrian town of Badenheim’s new ‘Sanitation Department’ wants the town’s Jewish residents to register, promising a better life for them in Poland, while these same people are more concerned with blaming each other for the failure of that year’s summer arts festival. I started Badenheim, 1939 thinking that it was straightforward fiction, but by the halfway mark some characters were behaving in such an unlikely manner towards each other that I finally figured the story must be allegorical. The way the characters are obsessed with irrelevant details of their lives and infighting while something big and nasty is hinted at in the background is good, but the two threads are never really juxtaposed and the reader has to make all the inferences. This is tell-not-show writing for a story that really needed more clarity as to its intentions as well as its slightly unrealistic nature.  PY


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