“The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping, by Aharon Appelfeld

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Temple Micah.

Micah Reader in October 2018 by Brenda Levenson

Allegedly a novel, Aharon Appelfeld’s 2017 book, The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping, has many elements of an autobiography.  Most of Appelfeld’s works deal with the Holocaust, even when the word is not used.  Where Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel among others chronicled life in concentration camps and its aftermath, Appelfeld more often than not makes use of metaphor when writing about World War II and its horrors.

As we know, extensive sleep is associated with depression from which Aharon, the main character of the book, clearly suffers.  His mother was murdered in front of him and his father died in a concentration camp.  As the people around him are unable to wake him up, they carry him around “like a baby” noted a reader. He emerges slowly back to life in Naples, Italy. There his group of other teenagers without parents undergo rigorous military training in preparation of their being sent to Palestine, a standard way of dealing with orphans of Holocaust victims in the early years of post- World War II.  Ephraim is in charge of the boys and will take them to a kibbutz once they are deemed ready.

The military training was “an organic part of the story” noted one reader who drew laughter when adding that it did not allow for “creativity,” thus explaining why the young man who plays the violin in not encouraged to do so.  The newly arrived young men were asked and expected to change their first name, a way of leaving the past behind, but sensitivity was not absent from rules, and when the change of identity was rejected, objections were understood and respected. They now speak Hebrew and as one reader noted in absentia, “when one speaks a second language, it changes one’s sense of self,” an observation with which some of us can concur. Appelfeld uses an interesting device to tell the story of Aharon’s family and describe the life he knew before the war, “weaving his dreams into the narrative.” Another reader viewed the dreams as “therapy,” recreating a past that is forever lost, bringing back to life loving and attentive parents.

Our group praised the “clear and concise writing” of the book.  Many commented on the “sensitivity” that binds the young men towards one another, as well as that which is shown by their fellow kibbutzniks, the nurses and the physician who treats Aharon after he is wounded in a skirmish with Arabs. The book is often deeply moving as Aharon makes us share his longing for a childhood of which children who survived the war were denied.

Like many of his contemporaries whose education was wrecked by the war, Aharon Appelfeld had had no formal schooling since the age of nine, but he graduated from Hebrew University where Max Brod, Martin Buber and Gershom Scholem were his professors. He died early this year in 2018.

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