The Age of Wonders, by Aharon Appelfeld – 1981 [Nancy Lawton]

In the last year the writers did not come and his father spent many hours with the priest Mauber.  Their conversations were long and exhausting and lasted until late at night.  Mauber thought that the Jews should get out as quickly as they could and go to Palestine to make a new life for themselves there.  His father, who had never been enthusiastic about the Zionist idea, rejected this program and argued that it was nothing but anti-Semitism in a new guise.

The priest Mauber insisted that he was talking about deep religious longings as well as historical necessity.  The Jews, even against their will, would be the torchbearers.  The elect.  At these words his father would look as though he had tasted something repellent.  But Mauber only repeated that the truth would yet be revealed.  His face was full of fierce conviction, the conviction of a prophet of wrath.

The last conversation, the worst of them all, took place here too, on this hill.  Everything around them was already infected with hatred, rejection, and renewed discrimination.  Of course, no one knew yet where these things would lead.  But the bitter smell was already everywhere.  Mauber begged his father, ‘Why don’t you leave?  Why don’t you emigrate to Palestine?’  The tone of his voice was both ardent and practical.  And while the priest persuaded and coaxed, his father took off his hat and said, ‘I, for one, will not emigrate.  I would rather be persecuted and disgraced than emigrate.  I’ve done nothing wrong.  I am an Austrian writer.  No one will deny me this title.’

Mauber, shaken, bowed his head and said, ‘I cannot understand your obstinacy.’  All the way home, along Hapsburg Avenue, they did not speak a word to each other.  His father’s hand did not stop shaking even when they got home.  His mother served fish for supper and when she asked if the priest Mauber was willing to help them, his father said brutally: ‘I don’t live by his mouth.’ 

– Aharon Appelfeld