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The Conversion

Our story opens in an Austrian city, two generations before the Holocaust, where almost all of the Jews have converted to Christianity. Today the church bells are pealing for Karl, an ambitious young civil servant whose conversion will clear his path to a coveted high government post. Karl's future looks bright, but with his promotion comes a political crisis that turns his conversion into a baptism by fire, unexpectedly reuniting Karl with his past and forcing him to take a stand he could never have imagined.
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About the Author

AHARON APPELFELD is the author of more than forty works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Iron Tracks, Until the Dawn's Light (both winners of the National Jewish Book Award), The Story of a Life (winner of the Prix Medicis Etranger), and Badenheim 1939. Other honors he has received include the Giovanni Boccaccio Literary Prize, the Nelly Sachs Prize, the Israel Prize, the Bialik Prize, and the MLA Commonwealth Award. Blooms of Darkness won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2012 and was short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize in 2013. Born in Czernowitz, Bukovina (now part of Ukraine), in 1932, he died in Israel in 2018.


In his 13th novel, celebrated Israeli novelist Appelfeld (The Retreat; Badenheim 1939) delivers a haunting tale of moral compromise and spiritual renewal. Some time before WWII, Karl Hübner, petty municipal bureaucrat in a provincial Austrian town, converts from Judaism to Christianity to advance his career. Karl, an ambivalent figure slightly infected with Austria's pervasive anti-Semitism, disdains his parents' religion as outmoded superstition, yet courageously, even recklessly, confronts violent anti-Semites. Several of Karl's Jewish-born former school chums follow the same path for social acceptance: Martin Schmidt, a twice-divorced, embittered alcoholic lawyer; Freddy, a corpulent and idealistic doctor who helps the poor; and Hochhut, a smug, Jew-hating industrialist who ends up bankrupt in a psycho ward. All of them, it is evident, are self-deluded in thinking that they can abandon their Jewish identity in a country where people feel that "a Jew, even after he's been baptized, is still a Jew. He'll always cheat you or betray you." But Karl is also Everyman, his life passing in an anxious haze of unfulfilled dreams, who exemplifies the question of how far one should compromise to survive. Although the Holocaust is never mentioned (nor are years and dates), it is ever-present‘and directly prefigured in the tragic finale, when Karl and his former housemaid, Gloria, an observant Jew with whom he is reunited and falls in love, are murdered by anti-Semitic peasants. Appelfeld, who witnessed the murder of his mother by the Nazis when he was eight, and who later escaped from a concentration camp, brings a great sense of moral urgency to this moving novel, which comes to us in a beautiful translation. Editor, Arthur Samuelson. (Nov.)

"A work of subtle power, at once a historical novel and a moral parable. [Appelfeld] creates an atmosphere charged with ethical significance, painting characters whose feelings are intricate and idiosyncratic, yet resonate sadly and sweetly within us all." --The Boston Globe

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