Until the Dawn’s Light
Blanca Guttman is a promising high school student when she is assigned to tutor Adolf Hammer, a Christian from a working-class family. Attracted by Adolf’s need for her, Blanca falls for him and agrees to convert and marry rather than attend university. Adolf’s robust Austrian family dislikes Blanca’s slight frame, her mother’s chronic illness, and her father’s profession as a bookseller. Adolf convinces Blanca to distance herself from her family and begins to beat her in an attempt to toughen her up. But when her mother dies and Adolf convinces Blanca to put her 53-year-old father in a nursing home, Blanca realizes that she has given up far too much. She considers leaving Adolf only to discover that she is pregnant and condemned to live in the prison of her marriage forever.
This is a beautifully written yet sad tale of a vulnerable girl whose story sheds light on the condition of European Jews a generation following the Jewish Enlightenment. Blanca is young and impressionable. Her parents, while providing a loving home, possess little direction or confidence to pass on to their daughter. Consequently, Blanca’s adult life is a daze of confusion and despair. She cannot change enough to please Adolf, just as the Jews could never assimilate enough to gain the acceptance of their Christian neighbors. In contrast to Blanca, Adolf’s hard-drinking and Jew-hating rages make him seem driven with purpose.
Aharon Appelfeld’s simple, yet dramatic story translated by Jeffrey Green is a superb tale with poignant lessons about identity and legacy.