'Love can overcome brutality': foreign fiction award won by Holocaust novel

  • @jerometaylor

An octogenarian Holocaust survivor has won The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for a novel loosely based on his experiences during the Second World War in which he escaped from a labour camp.

Aharon Appelfeld, an 80-year-old Israeli novelist, was awarded the coveted £5,000 prize at a ceremony last night for his latest book, Blooms of Darkness.

The novel is told from the perspective of an 11-year-old boy called Hugo who is taken in by Mariana, a prostitute, to keep him safe as the Second World War rages around them in the ghetto and Jewish people are forcefully sent to concentration camps. Both become reliant on each other as the war continues until the area is eventually liberated by the Russian army.

Appelfeld was born into a Jewish family in what was once a part of Romania. His mother was killed after Romanian troops invaded the area and he was deported to a labour camp at Transnistria when he was seven years old. He managed to escape, and was picked up by the Red Army in 1944, eventually making his way to Italy and finally reaching Palestine in 1946, aged 14. He has written more than 40 novels.

Speaking on the eve of receiving the prize, he said: "I wanted to explore the darkest places of human behaviour and to show that even there, generosity and love can survive; that humanity and love can overcome cruelty and brutality."

The translator of the English edition, Jeffrey M Green, was also honoured at the awards. He said: "Clearly, if Blooms of Darkness had not been excellent, even an excellent translation would not have won this prize, but a bad translation would certainly have destroyed the excellence of the original."