Wednesday, March 28, 2012
book review: Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld
This story gives an account from an 11 year-old boy into what it's like to hide from Germans at the height of the holocaust. Hugo's father has already been taken to the labour camp at the start of the book and him and his mother Julia are waiting to sort out their own plans of escape.
Hugo is meant to be taken by a peasant into the mountains but the man fails to come and the mother and son have little choice but to crawl through the sewers out of the ghetto. Hugo is taken under the protection of Mariana, a prostitute who lives and works in a brothel designed to keep the soldiers contented.
Hugo then spends the best part of a year and a half in a closet attached to Mariana's room and lives in a state of constant fear that he will be discovered. He enters into a dreamlike world of memories and visions of his parents and friends to sustain him through the cold nights and long days.
But a friendship and then a love develops between him and Mariana. She is damaged and hunts out the innocent love that Hugo is pressured into offering and then introduces him to adult ways.
In some ways this relationship, which is maintained even after the Germans have fled and the Russians breakthrough, is the central one in the book. Hugo finds himself eventually left alone as Mariana is taken by the Russians to face her fate as a collaborator.
Alone you come to understand just how fully the war has robbed him of his childhood. His parents and friends might have gone but you sense a greater loss, and one he will bear for the rest of his life, is the way he has suffered over the period of his hiding. In some ways it is a coming of age tale set against a horrific backdrop.
But for me the book lacked the depth I was hoping would come. At some points it reminded me of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas with the reader clearly knowing well before the main character what was going on. But I found the relationship between Hugo and Mariana one that seemed to trivalise what was going on. Her lack of real interest in the Jews and their fate an his inability to understand her world leave you frustrated at a comprehension gap that grows wider rather than narrower as the story unfolds.
There were some moments in the book where the author had captured that sense of fear, chance and how fate can be settled in the strangest of ways but for the most part the education of Hugo is something almost mundane and it need not have been.