The Owl and Other Stories
“A ship staying too long in one place defies the purpose of its existence. Everybody and everything connected with it becomes infected by this terrible malady of idleness. The crew – whose relation to the ship is symbiotic – is the most exposed, and therefore the first to suffer,” pens the author of “Don Quixote and Other Jewish Memories.” This quote indeed aptly personifies the characters depicted in this collection of best and new stories by the late John Auerbach. Mystery runs through each surrealistic tale – a lonely owl refuses to leave a ship passing a violently spewing volcano until forced to freedom by a sensitive sailor; one particular “girl in every port” intimately shares a sailor’s leave, gifting him with her Madonna-like image in a locket he forever carries; a Jewish prisoner during the Holocaust shifts nationalities twice to survive, only to return to his essential identity; smuggling, theft, and deception thread through a multi-national crew of a cargo ship carrying goods to Israel and elsewhere after the Six Day War; and an old sailor describes his conversation with the Biblical Noah, who clarifies what was real and what is perceived mythology regarding the terrible storm through which the Ark sailed. Often compared to Joseph Conrad, Auerbach similarly invites the reader to sense the unspoken and unrealized facets of every dialogue and to explore their multiple interpretations and consequent possibilities. Characters who initially appear to be drunken, lonely, and distant crewmembers in fact reveal a mental, emotional, and spiritual capacity and awareness that is too painful to consciously acknowledge. A literate, gifted writer, Auerbach parallels the outer and inner landscape of humanity with precise, symbolic descriptions of its mundane and vibrant world.