Erwin doesn't remember much about his journey across Europe when the war ended because he spent most of it asleep, carried by other survivors as they emerged from their hiding places or were liberated from the camps and made their way to Naples, where they filled refugee camps and wondered what was to become of them. Erwin becomes part of a group of boys being rigorously trained both physically and mentally by an emissary from Palestine for life in their new home. When he and his fellow clandestine immigrants are released by British authorities from their detention camp near Haifa, they are assigned to a kibbutz, where they learn how to tend the land and speak their new language. But a part of Erwin clings to the past--to memories of his parents, his mother tongue, the Ukrainian city where he was born--and he knows that despite what he is being told, who he was is just as important as who he is becoming.
When he is wounded in an engagement with snipers, Erwin spends months trying to regain the use of his legs. As he exercises his body, he exercises his mind as well, copying passages from the Bible in his newly acquired Hebrew and working up the courage to create his own texts in this language both old and new, hoping to succeed as a writer where his beloved, tormented father had failed. With the support of his friends and the encouragement of his mother (who visits him in his dreams), Erwin takes his first tentative steps with his crutches--and with his pen. Once again, Aharon Appelfeld mines personal experience to create dazzling, masterly fiction with a universal resonance.