Road Reads

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

BOOK: "Schlepping Through the Alps," by Sam Apple (Ballantine Books, $23.95)

TARGET AUDIENCE: Those wanting a look at modern Austria that is unlikely to be found in conventional travelogues.

The last wandering shepherd in Austria was born a city boy and got his job not through centuries of family tradition but by answering a newspaper help-wanted ad. He carries a shepherd's staff, but also a cell phone. Sam Apple follows shepherd Hans Breuer and his 625 sheep (watching carefully where he steps) through Alpine pastures, and also through the Austrian Jewish experience. Breuer loves to sing Yiddish songs to anyone who will listen (including his sheep), even though his family had discouraged him from learning the language. (He was already an an adult when he first heard the word "oy.")

Which is not to say that Apple's book is a charming ethnic amusement to be read aloud at your child's bedside. Breuer's marriage is falling apart, and he lives a country that has trouble acknowledging its anti-Semitic past -- if, indeed, it really is past. But Apple lightens his narrative with occasional wry turns of phrase, often at his own expense (and particularly when describing his own insecurities, of which there are many).

-- Jerry V. Haines


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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