Literature and War Readalong August 31 2012: The Story of a Life – Sippur chajim by Aharon Appelfeld

I haven’t read a lot of literature written by Israeli authors which is one more reason why I was keen on including Aharon Applefeld’s The Story of a Life – Sippur chajim. But that’s not the only reason. The Literature and War Readalong is also an opportunity for me to read some highly acclaimed authors I haven’t read before. The first time I read something about Aharon Applefeld I was surprised to find out that some poeple think he is one of the finest writers alive. An exquisite writer with a sense for language and style.

The Story of a Life is a literary memoir, one of my very favourite genres. At the outbreak of WWII Aharon Appelfeld was living in Romania with his parents, middle-class Jews. His memoir tells about a boy coming-of age during one of the worst periods in history. Applefeld had to endure a lot – the loss of his mother, the ghetto, escape, traversing many countries – until he found a new home in Israel. The book tells this story. If the whole book reads like the quote below I think we are in for a treat.

Here are the first sentences

At what point does my memory begin? It sometimes seems to me as if it only began at four, when we set off for the first time, Mother, Father and I, for a vacation into the heart of the shadowy, moist forests of the Carpathians. But I sometimes think that memory began to bud from within me before that, in my room, next to the double-glazed window that was decorated with paper flowers. Snow is falling and fleecy soft flakes are coming down from the sky with a sound so faint you cannot hear it. For hours I sit and gaze in wonder, until I merge with the white flow and drift to sleep.


The discussion starts on Friay, 31 August 2012.

Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2012, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.

34 thoughts on “Literature and War Readalong August 31 2012: The Story of a Life – Sippur chajim by Aharon Appelfeld

  1. Caroline – Your mention of this work has made me think, I have read very few literary memoirs, maybe I will give a few a try.

    This one sounds as if the author experienced much horror in his young life. Such terrible experiences seem somewhat common for great artists. This seems to me to be one reason that these auto biographies might be very enlightening.

  2. I just started reading this today as I will be going on vacation in two weeks time and hope to finish it before I go. It is indeed very well written and I like what he has to say about memory and imagination. I think this one will be a real pleasure to read. I’m glad you chose it as I had not heard of him before.

    • I’m very glad too. I used to think he was a German writer and had no specific idea about him until I read an acrticle and thought this book would be a great choice. I’m glad you like it so far.

  3. I really wish my library had a copy of this but it doesn’t–currently I’m not purchasing any books. I love literary memoirs and this one sounds wonderful. I look forward to your review and I hope you enjoy.

  4. This looks like a beautiful book, Caroline! The paragraph you have quoted is very beautiful! Happy reading! Will look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

  5. Your bete noire, Gabriel Josipovici, adores Appelfeld, considers him one of his favourite writers. I have so many reservations these days about Holocaust writers, but I do believe he has brilliant prose, so, well, torn about whether to read him or not.

    • I must admit, I knew that as I first read about Applefeld in a Josipovici review. 🙂
      Judith has started it already and wrote what she read so far was unlike any other Holocaust book and much more a sensory memoir à la Proust. That does sound promising, doesn’t it?

  6. I’ve read this Caroline, after reading his novella Badenheim 1939. The latter is, in my experience anyway, a quite unique take on the Holocaust and worth anyone’s attention. I’ll hold off commenting on The Story of a Life until you review it!

  7. I am loving the Appelfeld memoir! I can’t wait to post an entry about it. I’m fascinated that he’s written so many novels based loosely on his wartime experiences. I hope in the midst of the mayhem at the beginning of the fall semester that I remember to seek out one of his novels.

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

  8. I’ve been going on and on and on about Appelfeld on my blog, without getting into the particulars of A Story of A Life.

    I guess I’m trying to stir up some interest! I believe people would love it if they gave it a chance.

    I hope you haven’t minded my promotional methods!

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

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