978-0-8021-3357-1 • $11.00 • Paperback • Apr. 1994
“In the autumn they arrived. The way had been long,
exhausting, and toward the end of it had been beyond the mother’s strength. For
two days they climbed the peak, exposed to wind and cold. Autumn is not a
favorable season for journeys in these parts, but theirs was not a pleasure
trip.” So begins The Healer, the
eighth of Aharon Appelfeld’s powerfully original novels to be published in
English. It is a remarkable story about faith and faithlessness among European
Jews on the eve of World War II.
Felix Katz is an assimilated Viennese businessman whose life
is choked by suppressed rage toward believing Jews, and indeed all forms of
religious faith. But when conventional methods fail to cure his daughter’s
emotional illness, he reluctantly agrees to travel to the Carpathian Mountains
with her, his wife, and their son in search of a famous healer.
They arrive at a provincial village populated by Jews who
speak Ruthenian and sustain themselves with prayer and simple, earthy lives.
Felix’s tolerance snaps when he discovers that “the healer” is an old rabbi
living in a rundown cabin outside the village, preaching a return to the Bible
and to religion as the only road to spiritual health. Unable to bear this
passionate religiosity, Felix suffers six snow-bound months in the village,
becoming further alienated from his family. When he is finally able to descend,
he leaves his wife and daughter in the mountains and returns with his son to a
Vienna plagued by the disease of anti-Semitism—the same ailment that has already
poisoned Felix’s heart.
wonderfully combines elements of fable with the complex sensibility of a great
modernist writer confronting the deepest moral issues of our time.