Aharon Appelfeld is 80 years old. He was born on February 16th 1932 in a small town called Zhadova, near Czernowitz, in what was then Romania and is now Ukraine.
In 1941, when he was eight years old, the Nazi-allied Romanian army invaded his hometown and his mother was murdered. He was deported with his father to a German concentration camp, from which he escaped and hid for three years, before joining the Soviet Army in which he worked as a cook. After the war he spent several months in a displaced persons’ camp in Italy before emigrating to Palestine in 1946, two years before Israel’s independence. Only in the 1950s did he realise that his father had survived the war. Their reunion, after a separation of 20 years, was so emotional he has never been able to write about it.
He writes fiction in Hebrew, although he did not learn the language until he was in his teens. Most of his work focuses on Jewish life in Europe before, during and after World War II, but it is not simple autobiography. Silence, muteness and stuttering enforce his work, most notably Badenheim 1939, and disability is often a source of strength. The precision and conciseness of the Hebrew language suit his clear and modernistic style. Philip Roth, writing in the New York Times in 1988, described him as a “displaced writer of displaced fiction, who has made displacement and disorientation a subject uniquely his own.”