Erwin is a businessman of sorts. Trusting to a remarkable intuition, he ferrets out and purchases Jewish relics and antiques, then resells them to Jewish collectors in order to fund his perpetual travels. But he has another vocation as well, the secret reason for all his years of peregrination: to hunt down Nachtigel, and to execute him at last. Of his tormentor, and of all who collaborated in the attempted extermination of the Jewish people, he says, "As long as they live, our lives are not our lives." And so Erwin makes his annual round, at times hounded by nightmares and by melancholy, at others solaced by the simple beauty of the world in which he finds himself: "I can sit in a buffet and imagine, for instance, what's happening in distant Hansen, how the snow is falling there and softly covering the narrow lanes. Or Café Anton, where they serve warm rolls in the earliest hours of the morning, with coffee and cherry jam."
And so, too, we follow him, ever more fascinated by his concerns and his memories, ever more apprehensive about the possibility of a confrontation with Nachtigel. For the great year has arrived at last: Nachtigel has come out of hiding. If we are ambivalent about Erwin's plan to kill the killer, Aharon Appelfeld will not tell us which of our contradictory responses is the right one. This is, after all, a story about the hopeless tangling of identities and loyalties endemic to the human condition--about how a victim may become a murderer for the sake of justice, and how a man devoted to the preservation of a precious heritage may be more deeply committed to destroying than to building anew. --Daniel Hintzsche
From Library Journal
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