The Iron Tracks: A novel

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9780805241587: The Iron Tracks: A novel

How does one live after surviving injustice? What satisfaction comes from revenge? Can the past ever be left behind?

Masterfully composed and imbued with extraordinary feeling and understanding, The Iron Tracks is a riveting tale of survival and revenge by the writer whom Irving Howe called "one of the best novelists alive today."

Ever since he was released from a concentration camp forty years earlier, Erwin Siegelbaum has been obsessively riding the trains of postwar Austria. His days are filled with drink, his nights with brief love affairs and the torments of his nightmares. What keeps him sane is his mission to collect the menorahs, kiddush cups, and holy books that have survived their vanished owners. And the hope that one day he will find the Nazi officer who murdered his parents--and have the strength to kill him.

A haunting exploration of one survivor's complex, wrenching, inner world, The Iron Tracks is distinguished by the depth of insight and the distinctively stark, elegant style that have won Aharon Appelfeld recognition as one of the world's great writers.

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Review:

During the Second World War, Erwin Siegelbaum's parents were killed by Nachtigel, the man who ran the Nazi camp in which they and their son were captive laborers. Now, more than 40 years later, Erwin lives his life on and off the trains of south central Europe, performing each year the same migratory circuit of stations and towns, inns and markets--of friends and enemies, comrades and rivals: "Since the end of the war, I have been on this line, as they say: a long, twisted line stretching from Naples to the cold north, a line of locals, trams, taxis, and carriages. The seasons shift before my eyes like an illusion.... My route is fixed, more fixed every year. Imprinted on my body, it cannot be shaken."

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 the Publisher:

"This tale of reparation and retaliation is art at its highest."
--Washington Post

"Appelfeld is an astonishingly subtle and sensitive writer whose work refines itself and grows purer over the years. Almost every sentence in The Iron Tracks sparkles with gemlike refraction.......... Some believe this novel about a Holocaust survivor who travels the trains of south-central Europe in search of a Nazi tormentor is one of the finest books ever written about the pain and memory of war." ---Chicago Tribune (a Fiction and Nonfiction Favorite for 1998)

"Aharon Appelfeld's controlled fiction compresses large themes into small spaces. . . . He is a worthy successor to Kafka." --Jonathan Rosen, New York Times Book Review

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