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Reviewed by JOSEPH LEVEN Longtime readers of The Jewish Post & News will know that almost all the books that I review are non-fiction.

 It’s what interests me. Still, from time to time a novel will come along that I just can’t resist and Aharon Appelfeld’s Suddenly, Love is one of those books.
What a beautifully written book showing the veteran author at his best! Appelfeld is now in his 80’s and has written some 40 books in Hebrew, at least half of which have been translated into English. Although he has previously written his autobiography (The Story of a Life), I can’t help but think that Suddenly, Love contains elements of autobiography.
Ernst is a 70-year-old retired investment advisor whose great passion is for writing. He writes and tears up, writes and tears up, and is never satisfied with what he has written. His health is poor and he knows that he doesn’t have much time left, but he is determined to complete a work that will satisfy him before he dies.
Ernst grew up in central Europe and at a very young age became a Communist. He turned his back on his parents and his people and threw himself into the life of a revolutionary. When the war came, he fled into Soviet Russia and soon became an officer in the Red Army. He left behind his young wife and daughter, his parents and his grandmother, all of whom were murdered by the Nazis.
Irena is in her thirties and goes to work as a housekeeper for Ernst. She lives alone in what was her parents’ home and carefully preserves their apartment exactly the way it was when they were alive. Irena has never married and is really very content with her life.
For Irena, past and present are very much the same. She is able to summon up her dead parents and to talk to them quite comfortably. Later on in the novel, she is able to feel herself in the homes of Ernst’s parents and grandparents and to feel that she knows them well. Vivid imagination? Powerful intuition? Appelfeld does not dwell on the mechanics.
Not much happens in the story. Ernst writes and tears up; Irena cooks and cleans. Time passes. Irena devotes herself more and more to Ernst. She learns to read his moods and to help him out of the bouts of depression that assail him by preparing his favourite dishes. She opens her heart to him.
Ernst scarcely notices at first. He is caught up in the wrestling match with words and ideas. Yet little by little, something changes. His writing starts to flow. He tears up less and puts away more. Above all else, his past opens up to him and he can write about it clearly and simply. Ernst feels that he is finally writing words that ring true, and he realizes that this has only come about through Irena’s nurturing presence.
Ernst and Irena have fallen in love.
Among the other characters in Suddenly, Love, the portrait of Ernst’s grandfather particularly stands out. Appelfeld opens the door to us of the bygone world of the Jewish peasant farmers of the Carpathian Mountains. This ancient community lived quietly and peacefully in harmony with its neighbours for hundreds of years until the Holocaust. Ernst’s grandfather is a model of dignity, piety and compassion.
The other great theme of the novel is the theme of the writer. What is good writing and where does it come from? Through his character Ernst, Appelfeld tells us that great writing comes from the events of the writer’s own life, what he has seen or experienced, and particularly his experiences when he was young.
The writing that Ernst had been doing was populated with universal characters, a holdover from his Communist youth. It never satisfied him. Only when he was able to connect with his childhood experiences at his grandparents’ home in the Carpathians, did Ernst’s writing start to have value to him. He also discovers the importance of simplicity in writing; less description, fewer adjectives - just the facts.
Aharon Appelefeld  has followed his own prescription in Suddenly, Love. The book is short and spare with not a wasted word. It is the work of a master craftsman still at the height of his powers.

"Suddenly, Love"
By Aharon Appelfeld
Schocken Books,
New York,  2014, 225 pages

(Suddenly, Love is available at the Winnipeg Public Library.)

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