The János Book
By Alex Appella
2006. Edition of 50.
21.7 x 63.8 cm (approx. 8.5 x 25”); 35 pages printed on one side. Includes 29 full color collages. Boards in black cloth with Japanese stab binding. Cut out on front board to reveal the face of one brother. Housed in a blackcloth clamshell box. Printed on 120 gram Bakri Avorio Paper using an Epson Inkjet printer and Epson Durabright Inks. Research, writing, design, printing, and binding by Alex Appella.
It’s difficult not to be hyperbolic about the scope and accomplishment of this work. Twelve years of research and development do not even begin to speak of its cost, or of its value. Because it involves self-knowledge, this book feels as painful and liberating as birth.
Questions abound: Is the past ever past? How long are its tentacles? Despite what we think in America, is it possible to reinvent oneself?
Full of drama both high and low, the story spans the 20th century. A 20-year-old Appella gets her Great Uncle János to open up about things that have not been talked about for decades. It begins – but we don’t know this at the beginning – with a Jewish family and five siblings in pre-WWI Hungary. By the time Alex Appella, the granddaughter of one of those siblings, becomes a part of the saga 70 or so years later, the family has been challenged by circumstance, diminished by events beyond their control, and scattered by personal decision. Heritage denied; heritage embraced. Does it make a difference?
My grandfather’s brother – your brother – emigrated to Palestine? We are Jewish? What do you mean? What does that mean? What can it mean?
Pontificate about the value of truth all you want to, The János Book reveals its cost.
Appella’s collage technique is well suited to capture this layered tale. The pages froth with art as well as information.
"One has to cry for the disintegration of our family. One has to cry, because what happened to us, has happened to millions of families all over the world. Since my childhood, it's like a bomb exploded among us, and we were scattered apart. An eye in Cuba, a bone in Argentina, a hand in California, a foot in Connecticut, and still more in Israel and Canada and Switzerland, all over the world. Conversations like what you and I have, Alex, at one time were common among family members. I'm passing on what I know of our family, to add meat and flesh to the pieces that have been scattered all over the world. The unity of what we once were can still give us strength, and can remind us of what we need for strength in the present and in the future.
"At some point, one must ask: what really leaves traces behind us? Nothing. What is painful today, or what was painful yesterday, or what is going to be painful tomorrow, in the end turns out to be nothing more than anecdotes. And then nothing. It is forgotten. Life is like water, it cleanses everything. Even the most painful. But the written word is not lost, ever. Memory, memory fades. The pain and the traces always disappear with time. The written word does not."
~ János Szenti