A Beggar in Jerusalem is told in the first person by David, heir to a bloody history of anti-Semitic persecutions. It is a novel in which Jewish survivors of destruction must confront their miraculous escape. In the process, although they suffer from guilt and anger, they ultimately forge an identity based on hope.
In June, 1967, the forty-year-old David goes to fight against the united Arab armies. He wishes to die in order to finally overcome the despair caused by God’s abandonment of the Jews during World War II and by his own pointless survival. At the front, he meets Katriel, and both soon agree that whoever comes back will tell the other’s story. Israel wins a resounding victory in what comes to be called the Six-Day War, and as the narrative opens, there are celebrations all over the land, especially in Jerusalem. Katriel, however, does not come back.
David not only tells his comrade’s story—much as King David told of Absalom—but also wonders whether he ought to live it as well. This he does, at the end, by marrying Katriel’s widow, not out of love, which would imply a total gift of self and of which he does not feel himself capable, but rather out of affection and sympathy, perhaps out of friendship. The hero has realized that, beyond suffering and bitterness, he can arrive at self-discovery.
Whereas Albert Camus favored revolt in the face of the absurd, Wiesel advocates laughter. By laughing one...
(The entire section is 432 words.)