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Aharon Appelfeld: Editor’s Cut

From: Jewish Quarterly Review
Volume 103, Number 4, Fall 2013
pp. 446-458 | 10.1353/jqr.2013.0036

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:


In February 1982, I submitted my doctoral dissertation in the Hebrew literature department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The topic was “The Developmental Structure in Aharon Appelfeld’s Early Prose.” When my advisors returned my thesis to me, I sent it, with fear and trepidation, to Aharon Appelfeld, whom I had never met.

Appelfeld read the dissertation and invited me to discuss it in his home in Mevaseret Zion, and since then he has become an inseparable part of my life. In fact, I know much more about Appelfeld, in certain respects, than I know about my father and mother, who are natives of Hungary and, like him, are Holocaust survivors. My mother came to Israel after surviving one of the death marches from Auschwitz to Germany at age fourteen. My father, who was about seventeen, was among the fortunate passengers on the Kasztner transport who made it to Switzerland, after a short spell at Bergen-Belsen. Thanks to Appelfeld, I now know more about my mother and father—about the cultural space from which they came, their childhood and youth, their dreams and nightmares, their loves and disappointments, and their complex encounter with the State of Israel. Moreover, thanks to Appelfeld I know a lot more about what he terms “the Jewish people’s hundred years of solitude in modernity,” as well as about Western culture, its positive and negative manifestations, and human nature.

In 1986 Appelfeld moved from the Hakibbutz Hameuchad publishing house to Keter Books, where I was, since the previous year, editor of Hebrew prose. In 1988, I edited a manuscript of his for the first time: the novella Floor of Fire. Since then, I have edited seventeen other manuscripts of Appelfeld’s. First at Keter, then at Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan, which I joined in 2008—and to my great delight, Appelfeld followed suit. The most recent of his manuscripts that I’ve had the privilege to edit is To the Edge of Sorrow, which was published on February 29, 2012.


Author-editor relations usually unfold away from the limelight. What transpires in the “editing room” is usually akin to the psychologist’s office, in that both entail a relationship whose effectiveness depends, according to convention, on an unwritten confidentiality agreement. The breach of author-editor relationships therefore involves a particular kind of sensitivity. This is because in the editing space, unlike in the psychologist’s office, it is not at all clear who is the professional authority, since the author does not concede that the editor is a greater master in the art of writing even if s/he accepts the editor’s comments (some, most, or all of them). In candid moments, many authors have testified that admitting their text has been treated by another person is akin to hanging their soiled undergarments in the open, and, worse, as diluting what they cherish most: their voice.

No wonder, then, that one modest shelf can accommodate all of the world’s writings on author-editor relationships. And yet, despite the scarcity of works on this subject—such as the relationship of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, Thomas Wolfe and Maxwell Perkins, Raymond Carver and Gordon Jay Lish, and the fragmentary information on Yosef Hayim Brenner’s relations with the authors he edited (Reuveni and Burla among others); or today, the relationship Menachem Perry had with A. B. Yehoshua versus with David Grossman—it is obvious that this is fraught psychocultural territory, the intelligent exploration of which may shed light on some of the mysteries of artistic creativity.

In this modest essay I wish to break the “confidentiality agreement” between myself and Aharon Appelfeld. I would like to expose (with his permission, of course), a little of what takes place behind the scenes of the editorial process; to point out a few milestones on the road upon which his manuscripts travel before becoming books.

First is the scene in which he delivers a new manuscript to me. Appelfeld, it should be said in advance, belongs to a small group of writers who always have several manuscripts in the final stages of preparation. In other words, he does not finish one manuscript, publish...

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