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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical

A Table for One

Aharon Appelfeld

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To purchase A Table for One

Title: A Table for One
Author: Aharon Appelfeld
Genre: Memoir
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 142 pages
Original in: Hebrew
Availability: A Table for One - US
A Table for One - UK
A Table for One - Canada
  • Under the Light of Jerusalem
  • Translated by Aloma Halter (though the paperback edition makes no mention of her name anywhere, nor is it acknowledged that A Table for One was not written in English)

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing, if a bit limited

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 5/1/2008 Nicholas Clee
TLS . 30/11/2007 Toby Lichtig

  From the Reviews:
  • "This short memoir, translated from the Hebrew by an uncredited Aloma Halter, is an account of a writing life, and an apologia. Throughout his career, Appelfeld has faced questions about why his writing does not show more political engagement. Modestly and obliquely, he offers here fragments of memory by way of an answer." - Nicholas Clee, The Guardian

  • "Appelfeld writes well on the politics of language. (...) The Toby Press's paperback edition of A Table for One does not contain any of the handsome paintings by Aharon's artist son, Meir, that accompanied the hardback. One of these adorns the front cover, unaccredited; even more mystifying is the lack of mention of the book's English-language translator, Aloma Halter. Toby Press has promised to rectify these omissions in future editions." - Toby Lichtig, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Table for One is a café-memoir, as Aharon Appelfeld recounts his writing-life in Jerusalem by focussing on the cafés where he spent much of his time -- and did most of his work. "Only in a Jerusalem café do I feel the freedom of imagination", he writes.
       As he notes:

These sketches are by no means autobiographical, but are more a way of concentrating on one aspect of life: the place that Jerusalem has in my writing.
       The changes Jerusalem undergoes are mirrored in the changing faces of the cafés he haunts: when shortly after World War II they were still typically Central European and the languages spoken there just like 'back home', with time -- and the deaths of some of those close to him -- the cafés change too.
       Appelfeld touches on some personal details, especially his experiences during World War II, but it's striking how impersonal aspects of the book are. Suddenly, for example, he'll mention: "Marriage didn't change my habits" -- without having said anything heretofore about the woman who had become his wife. Instead, he focusses on his writing -- or rather on his steps towards becoming a writer -- offering small insights along the way, such as: "Kafka and Agnon were the authors that I loved, but I couldn't follow in their path" -- and then finding in Kleist "a writer from whom I could learn".
       Particularly interesting is how his own approach and understanding evolves -- thes sense, for example, that:
The simple and the factual lead to truth. An excess of words can be a serious obstacle.
     This was a time when I was impressed by people who had a way with words -- and was convinced that if I could only learn to express myself, my thoughts would also be more lucid. I didn't yet know that silence is preferable to speech; that words may delineate the framework, but that artistic expression lies between the words -- in the silence.
       In this respect, A Table for One is also Appelfeld's defense of his singular approach. Indeed, there are several scenes in which he faces critical commentary about his writing and books, such as Yitzhak Shehar's comment about his first novel, "Your Hebrew is still young" (and language (and facility with it) -- German, Yiddish, Hebrew, especially -- is a subject that also frequently comes up) .
       A Table for One ultimately feels a bit too careful -- those aren't silences, those are things that are left unsaid that hang over much of the book (everything from his wife, who makes only a small cameo appearance, to the Palestinian question) -- but still provides some interesting insight into the writer, as well as the changing face of Jerusalem (and, especially, its cafés) over the years.

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A Table for One: Reviews: Aharon Appelfeld: Other books by Aharon Appelfeld under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Aharon Appelfeld was born in 1932. He lives in Israel.

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