Retreat is exactly what some Jews have done in this slim, poetic novel. It is 1937, and an eclectic assortment of Jews has been drawn to this Retreat in order to rid themselves of their Jewish traits. We know our history, so we know what’s coming. Though it’s not explicit, it’s always in the air. Ominously, there is a sense that work, hard work, will set these people free. As with most visions, though, things here fall apart, especially when the founder, Balaban, becomes ill.
Appelfeld directs our focus onto Lotte, an actress still concerned with her body, whose daughter brings her to the Retreat because she has nowhere else to go. Lotte becomes part of the furniture here, and a long awaited visit from her daughter, does not turn out the way one might expect.
Appelfeld’s writing is delicate. It’s translated well by Dalya Bilu. The story takes on the tone of a parable. It’s an intriguing, understated story.