In the turn of the century Eastern Europe, a brother and sister have been chosen to guard an ancient cemetery of Jewish martyrs situation on an isolated mountain. The endless snows protect them from the pogroms and plagues that rage in the world below, but that same protective blanket cuts them off from their people and tradition. Escape–from loneliness, from wavering piety, and from the burgeoning desire they feel for one another–becomes impossible. A parable for our times, Unto the Soul lays bare the deepest stirrings of religious feeling and despair within the human soul.

Short selection

When he reached the cemetery, he forgot everything. He was glad the rains hadn't damaged the tombstones. The drainage canals he had dug in time had borne off the water well. The tombstones projected up over the raised hillock. Gad knew every grave. The saints lay in three rows, in the first row the men, in the second the children, and in the third the women. At some distance, the row of the guardians. Once he had asked Uncle Arieh the meaning of that arrangement, and his uncle had not given him a clear reply. Nor did anyone else know the reason. Now he no longer sought the meaning. The hours here were the loveliest of the day.

More than once Amalia had reproached him for spending too long in the cemetery, but he had ignored her reproaches. In fact, he didn't stay longer than six or seven hours a day, but those hours inspired sights and visions. Here he sometimes saw his small native city, his father and mother, and his two little brothers, who had died in the great typhus epidemic. In the summer it was different, of course, In the summer the plot was stripped of its blue color and of the silence. People would prostrate themselves on the graves and shake the stones. Sobs were raised up without shame, and whenever a woman fainted, the people around her would carry her out.

As he stood there, thirst for a drink assailed him. If it hadn't been evening, he would have gone down to the gentile tavern and sipped two or three drinks. The smell of tobacco mingling with the smell of alcohol would drive away the sadness from within him....

Introduction to Appelfeld's Iron Tracks



Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend