Publication Date: March 10, 2009
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A caravan of Jews wanders through Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth century on a heartbreaking quest. Spiritual seekers and the elderly, widows and orphans, the sick and the dying, con artists and adventurers, victims of pogroms who have no place else to go–they are all on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but the journey is filled with unexpected detours and unanticipated disaster.
Among them is Laish, a fifteen-year-old orphan, through whose eyes we observe the interactions within this ragtag group of dreamers, holy men, misfits, and thieves as they battle with one another, try to stay one step ahead of the gendarmes, and do what little they can to keep up their flagging spirits. With the death of the rabbi who brought the group together, they are now led by men whom Laish refers to as “the dealers”–black-market traders whose motives are questionable but who periodically infuse the group with the money they need to get to the next town.
Years pass, tempers start to fray, and the caravan grows smaller as people die or abandon the venture. A brutal winter and typhoid epidemic further decimate the ranks, and the pilgrims have begun to reach the limits of their endurance. The dream of Jerusalem keeps the remnant going, and against all odds they finally arrive–emotionally and physically exhausted–at the port city of Galacz. They see their ship in the harbor, but whether they will actually make it onto that ship is suddenly and tragically thrown into doubt.
This magnificent new novel from Aharon Appelfeld (“One of the greatest writers of the age” —The Guardian) resonates with a universality of experience: the will to survive, the struggle to hold on to hope.