It is a cliche of criticism that Homerndisplayed his genius nowhere so much asnin his portrait of Helen. Since no onencould describe her divine beauty, henlet the whole Trojan War stand as hernmemorial.nStill, there is something to be said fornMrs. Renault: she sells. Her career, basednon one gimmick and a modest talent, is anreal tribute to the power which thenGreeks still have over our imaginativenlife. Think of it: Chapman’s and Pope’snHomer, Byron’s stanzas on the Isles ofnGreece, the novels of Mary Renault. Eachngeneration makes its judgment on thenGreeks, and—in the declension fromnPope to Renault—what a judgment thenGreeks have madeonus. DnSubtle Torments & Brutal RealitiesnAharon Appelfeld: The Age ofnWonders; David R. Godine; Boston.nCynthia Ozick: Levitation: Five Fictions;nAlfred A. Knopf; New York.nby Will MorriseynA hese books suggest that somethingnmore than custom or prejudice separatesnJews from the rest of us. Jews strugglenwith Gentiles, with God, with themselves,nbut the struggle that scars themnmost deeply began in Eden: the strugglenwith nature. Nature in its simplestnaspects—brutal and seductive, stubbornnand malleable—ceaselessly provokesntheir fascinated distrust.nAharon Appelfeld lives in Israel andnwrites in Hebrew; neither his country nornhis language fits easily into the world. Henhas learned some of his techniques fromnthis century’s virtuoso of fascinated distrust,nFranz Kafka. But, unlike the writernin The Age of Wonders, Appelfeld is nonsimple Kafka devotee; he uses whatnhe’s learned for a purpose. He has discoverednthat the Kafkaesque capturesnchildhood: a time when the child can’tncomprehend all that occurs, so be buildsna world on guesses and wonders at thenrest. The writer depicted is the father ofnthe narrator. Father’s devotion to art,npanicularly Kafka’s art, substitutes fornhis ancestors’ devotion to Judaism. Hisnaesthete’s humanism finds its echo in lib-nMr. Morrisey is associate editor o/Interpretation.nI S ^ B ^ M ^ H ^nChronicles of Cultureneral politics; “very close to Stefan Zweig”nand, like him, an Austrian Jew, Fathernshares Zweig’s horror of violence andnfondness for political and cultural internationalism.nAssimilated as he can be.nFather curses Jews and Judaism with then1930’s intellectual’s blackest word:n”petit-bourgeois.” Like childhood, then1930’s was an age of wonders. Metamorphosesnproliferated, as life imitatednKafka. The narrator’s teenage aunt suffersna nervous breakdown, converts tonChristianity, and dies, inspiring Father’snpraise of her “true religious feeling.” Anlifelong friend of the family, a sculptor,noffspring of a mixed marriage, convertsnto Judaism and provokes Father’s drunkennrage against the “loss” of a fine artist.n(“Your father, Austrian by birth, left younland, health, hands fit to carve stone,nand you want to exchange this health,nthis freedom, for an old, sick faith. Takenpity on your freedom, take pity on yournbody, which never had to suffer a senselessnmutilation.”)nMore metamorphoses occur. A criticnattacks Father’s writings because theynconcern Jews, albeit secularized ones,n”parasites living off the healthy Austrianntradition.” A young peasant woman arrivesnfrom Father’s native village; hernpresence in the household causes Fathernand his friends to go on a series of binges.nThe family adopts an orphan who staysnwith them until the end, “perhaps becausenshe had lost something in ournhouse, that animal vitality that makesnmen brave.” Mother responds to theirnincreasing social ostracism with “annnstrange self-denying piety … as if shenwere purposely imposing hardships onnherself.” Sickness and health, decadencenand freedom, fear and bravery and guilt:nit is the language of fashionable Nietzscheanism.nNietzsche despised anti-nSemitism, but he also detested the Christianitynthat emerged from Judaism and,nhe said, from Platonism. Christianity,nJudaism, and Platonism set inhibitingnghosts above life. Only nature and art,nmerged into “creativity,” yield strength.n” ‘I deny,’ thundered Father, ‘the Judaismnothers attribute to me.’ ” Father,ntoo, metamorphoses. He begins as ann”Austrian” writer “drunk with success,”na novelist, playwright, essayist, andneditor of the journal of the Jewish-ChristiannLeague. He ends as a pariah whonleaves his family for Vienna, hoping tonco-found, with a sympathetic baroness,na liberal salon aimed at saving Austrianfrom anti-Semitism. By now it is 1939-nAlmost all of Appelfeld’s self-denyingnJews hunger for nature but fail to conquernit. They lust after the approval ofnAustrian men and favors from peasantngirls. They drink, lurching after Nietzsche’snDionysus. They fool no one. AnnAustrian intellectual confides to Fathernthat he can always tell a Jew because thenJew looks anxious, while the Austriann”never blames himself or anyone else.”nIn the end, as the Jews are collected in thentown synagogue to await the arrival ofnthe cattle train to the camps, businessmennsnarl about “decadent artists;”nMother cries, “Shopkeepers!” and everyonenblames the rabbi—who, indeed,ncalled them there without saying why.nIn the novel’s second part, it is 1965.nBruno, the narrator, returns to his nativentown from Jerusalem. “[F]or Bruno,neverything held a baffling, wonderingnquestion.” His father’s life is “thendisgrace he had not dared to touch,nseething silently all these years like pusninside a wound.” Even in death. Fathernand sickness go together, and Brunonsearches, if not for the cause of that sickness,nperhaps for its meaning. Meaningndoesn’t come cheaply for Appelfeld’sn