Interviews

Aharon Appelfeld, The Art of Fiction No. 224

Interviewed by Alain Elkann

INTERVIEWER

In your work, is the pre-Holocaust world like a fairy tale or a metaphor, the way money is for Balzac, snobbism for Proust, sex for Moravia? I mean, every writer describes the world with the particular obsession that is his metaphor, but then—

APPELFELD

I am not writing in metaphors. I am writing about catastrophes.

INTERVIEWER

Catastrophes?

APPELFELD

Yes. And what they do to the human soul. Because, generally, literature deals with civility, civilian life, homes, stability. With eating and sleeping, with loving.

INTERVIEWER

Not always. Dostoyevsky is not exactly a civilian writer.

APPELFELD

No. And in Chekhov, for instance, there are always personal tragedies, but I am dealing with catastrophes that change your way of feeling and thinking. In what way? There is no more security. Everything was under this catastrophe. You look at everything through the catastrophe. You are still eating your breakfast, but you don’t forget the catastrophe.

INTERVIEWER

But you built for yourself a very stable life. You have a house, a wife, children.

APPELFELD

Yes, it is true I have a stable life. But this is a questionable stability. In the day, there is an Appelfeld who has children and a wife, but in the night, there is a different Appelfeld. In the night, he is still in the ghetto, in the camps. So, it’s a double life, if you wish.

INTERVIEWER

But if you write about that obsessively, it doesn’t help you to forget.

APPELFELD

I don’t want to cure myself.

INTERVIEWER

Why not?

APPELFELD

Because I don’t want to become a petit bourgeois with a wife and children. I cannot. My life, I call it a nightmare. My nights are a nightmare, quite often, but the nightmares are rich—rich in human behavior, rich in feelings, rich in sensations. I nourish myself by those nights. They nourish me.

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