Poland, a Green Land: A Novel (Hardcover)
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.
About the Author
AHARON APPELFELD is the author of more than forty works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Iron Tracks, Until the Dawn's Light (both winners of the National Jewish Book Award), The Story of a Life (winner of the Prix Médicis Étranger), and Badenheim 1939. Other honors he has received include the Giovanni Boccaccio Literary Prize, the Nelly Sachs Prize, the Israel Prize, the Bialik Prize, and the MLA Commonwealth Award. Blooms of Darkness won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2012 and was short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize in 2013. Born in Czernowitz, Bukovina (now part of Ukraine), in 1932, he died in Israel in 2018.
“Appelfeld was one of the most revered Israeli writers of his generation . . . Interestingly, it was his affinity with the minimalist European masters of ‘intellectual displacement’—Franz Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Albert Camus—that became his most notable literary trait. Poland, a Green Land is written with his characteristic economy of language and powerful imagery . . . With deep wisdom and sensitivity, it explores the tragic consequences of denying one’s inner truth. Appelfeld’s unique literary achievement is his ability to also include the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity and their descendants in this psychological link between past and present.”
—Elena Lappin, The Washington Post
“More than any other writer in Hebrew (his adopted language), Aharon Appelfeld, a master of understatement who died in 2018, conjures the obscene horror of the Shoah, and he does so without graphic scenes of crematoria or even using the word ‘Nazi’ . . . In the spare prose of Stuart Schoffman’s translation, Yaakov Fine’s journey takes on the authority of a fable.”
—Steven G. Kellman, Forward
“An enthralling novel suffused with quiet brilliance and subtle power . . . Appelfeld’s fluid, limpid, trick-free prose contains pockets of beauty, and he routinely captives with various tales and set-piece scenes . . . What starts out as a straightforward pilgrimage with the opportunity for fact finding and soul searching soon turns into a complex journey of self-discovery filled with dark revelations and painful home truths . . . Skillfully translated by Stuart Schoffman . . . this is a slow burn of a book, and it is all the better for it . . . it smolders with urgency and potency.”
—Malcolm Forbes, The Washington Examiner
“Smoothly translated by Stuart Schoffman, Poland, A Green Land is deceptively easy to read—nary a fancy or excess word—but the ease cloaks a tension-building intensity.”
—Neal Gendler, American Jewish World
“Appelfeld masterfully weaves multiple narrative threads that entwine and inform one another, [and] his portrayal of Polish peasantry is nuanced and complex . . . Touching and profound, Poland, a Green Land transports the reader to the disappeared world of the Polish shtetl, revealing how its tragic past continues to haunt both Jewish émigrés and the Polish village.”
—Basia Winograd, Jewish Book Council
“An engrossing tale of a Jewish man’s return to his ancestral village . . . Appelfeld structures the narrative in dreamed conversations between Yaakov and his deceased mother, which offer an account of what his parents couldn’t tell him when they were alive: that as a young married couple during WWII, they hid in cellars, a cowshed, and in the forest, and that his grandparents were burned alive in their synagogue. The dreams are vivid and economically written, and the unsettling, unresolved ending adds heft. This powerful, bittersweet performance does not disappoint.”
“Appelfeld, who didn’t often make explicit references to the Holocaust in his fiction and uses that word only once here, attains raw emotion with his account of horrific violence. The book has a fuzzy, dreamlike quality, leading to a more detached ending than in masterpieces such as The Age of Wonders and The Conversion. But this work, being published in English for the first time, still haunts . . . A powerful and timely addition to Appelfeld’s great body of work.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)