Poland, A Green Land by Aharon Appelfeld
Translator: Stuart Schoffman
A Tel Aviv shopkeeper visits his parents’ Polish birthplace in an attempt to come to terms with their complex legacy—and is completely unprepared for what he finds there.
Yaakov Fine’s practical wife and daughters are baffled by his decision to leave his flourishing dress shop for a ten-day trip to his family’s ancestral village in Poland. Struggling to emerge from a midlife depression, Yaakov is drawn to Szydowce, intrigued by the stories he’d heard as a child from his parents and their friends, who would wax nostalgic about their pastoral, verdant hometown in the decades before 1939. The horrific years that followed were relegated to the nightmares that shattered sleep and were not discussed during waking hours.
When he arrives in Krakow, Yaakov enjoys the charming sidewalk cafes and relaxed European atmosphere, so different from the hurly burly of Tel Aviv. And his landlady in Szydowce—beautiful, sensual Magda, with a tragic past of her own—enchants him with her recollections of his family. But when Yaakov attempts to purchase from the townspeople the desecrated tombstones that had been stolen from Szydowce’s plowed-under Jewish cemetery, a very different Poland emerges, one that shatters Yaakov’s idyllic view of the town and its people, and casts into sharp relief the tragic reality of Jewish life in Poland—past, present, and future.
In this novel of revelation and reconciliation, Aharon Appelfeld once again mines lived experience to create fiction of powerful, universal resonance.
Year first published: 2023