Asking me to make my case for why Aharon Appelfeld is the greatest living Jewish writer in the world in 50 words or less is like asking me to explain why I love the woman I love while standing on one foot. I have no choice but to try. Appelfeld lived more and felt more Jewish history than any of his peers. He felt it emotionally and historically at once, and with a Bellovian eye for character and a Kafka-esque understanding of fate. He is never cruel, even as he understands cruelty as an essential part of the universal warp and woof. He is a master of uncanny detail and compression. The Iron Tracks is his novel about vengeance, which is a subject that makes Jews bluster or become queasy. Appelfeld doesn’t flinch.David Samuels is most recently the author of Seul l’Amour Peut Te Briser le Coeur, a collection of his writing about America, to be published in September by Seuil.