Lake Waban in Massachusetts June 2017

My favorite place to walk in the Boston area

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pat Barker, David R. Godine, and Appelfeld

In my bookish meanderings today, I discovered the English author Pat Barker, who hails originally from North Yorkshire, I believe. I am going to my local library tomorrow to grab a copy of Regeneration, the first novel in her "Regeneration Trilogy," a historical about Siegfried Sassoon and his psychiatrist, who tries to "convince" Sassoon to return to the front. It was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 1991. Ghost Road, the third novel in the trilogy, won the Booker in 1995.

When I looked up Barker, and learned that her themes concern "trauma, memory, survival, and recovery," I realized her books are right up my alley. In fact, the synopsis of each title interests me.

I have ordered Aahron Appelfeld's Badenheim 1939, published by David Godine (pronounced go-DEEN) in Boston, probably the independent publisher I most admire. Someone, somewhere should write the history of Godine and his publishing firm. His list has always fascinated me. I have always wished that I could interview Godine, that I could be his literary friend, and other absurd fantasies. And it is he who published Aahron Appelfeld for the first time in the U.S.! (More about Appelfeld near the end of this post.)

And guess what? I found Godine's company blog today as well.

I will add that part of Godine's allure may be due to the fact that he lived (lives?) in a town adjoining Boston to the south, where for three years in the mid-90s, I had a dream job working part-time in the largest children's bookstore in New England. The owner knew Godine well, and one day, a day or two before Christmas, he bustled in and bought armloads of books and related merchandise. A co-worker nudged me. "That's David Godine." I turned and gawked from a distance, wishing I had the fortitude and the space to introduce myself. But because the store was crammed with holiday shoppers needing help, I realized immediately what an idiotic idea that was.

More about the Appelfeld, the Israeli writer. I am so in awe of and deeply moved by The Story of a Life, because as one critic put it, "his reminiscences of the Holocaust are so restrained." To state it more precisely, from my point of view, Applefeld's bits of memory are so clearly composed, so understated, so purely written from the point of view of language, that I latch onto his memory and declare, "I get it. I'm so at one with the text." It has been eons since I have felt this kind of sympathy with an author.

Remember, Caroline is hosting her Literature and War Readalong with Aahron Appelfeld's A Story of a Life translated from the Hebrew. It is so far my #1 read of the year. There's still time to pick up a copy. It's a quick read and only 160 pages or so. I hope some of you can join in the discussion at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat on August 31st.


  1. Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy is one of my all time favourites. I'm not sure you know, but I'm a cultural anthropologist (among other things) and that made me love it all the more.
    It's a look at the birth of two disciplines psychiatry and anthropology. Rarely have I read books which were engaging on so many different levels.
    One of my readers commented and said he liked Applefeld's Badenheim best of all of his books. It should be another treat.
    Thanks for writing about him again.

    1. Caroline,
      I'm so glad to hear you loved the Regeneration Trilogy. And I'm extremely interested in novels that examine academic issues as well as tell a great story.

      And I'm so interested to hear that you are a cultural anthropologist. What a fascinating field, on so many levels!

      I think Badenheim 1939 arrives later today!


  2. There's a film version of Regeneration that's worth catching if you're into such things.

    I have a copy of Badenheim 1939 which I haven't arrived at yet.

    1. Guy,
      Thank you for telling me about the film. I'll scout through Netflix for it--after I've read the book.


  3. I'm sure you will really enjoy the Pat Barker books. BTW I'm still thinking about joining in with your German reading thingy, it would be completely new to me as the closest I've got is Remarque, so not close at all.

    1. Katrina,
      Well, Remarque is not so far off if you've read All Quiet on the Western Front, one of my favorite war (anti-war) novels.

      I've read three Schlink novels, some of his articles, and one volume of short stories. I'm not an expert, but his fiction deals with the fall-out and ramifications of Germany's 20th century politics and wars and its effects on Germans in the East and West, and its effects on individual morality and Germany's collective memory today. These are the undercurrents affecting his characters.

      I've done a very bad job of summing him up, Katrina. But when I announce the Schlink Week, I'll try to do better.

      And I'll ask if anyone else out there reads my reply to Katrina, please add your two cents' worth! Thank you!


  4. I ve read the Barker and will second the film rec for it as well ,I ve read the appelfeld that won the iffp this year ,I saw him at prize night but didn't get chance to talk to him which was a shame ,all the best stu