All Rivers Run to the Sea

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 869

Born in Eastern Europe in 1928, a shy, religious Jewish boy survived the Holocaust and went on to become an acclaimed author, a charismatic speaker, and a dedicated humanitarian. In 1986, he received the Nobel Peace Prize, one of the world’s highest honors. This book, the first of two projected volumes, is distinctive not only because Wiesel recalls extraordinary encounters and remembers striking names and faces, but especially because it shows how his remarkable moral and spiritual outlook emerged from the twentieth century’s greatest darkness.

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Wiesel’s memoirs are not triumphal vindications. They are drenched in sadness and melancholy. Yet sadness and melancholy, and the despair to which they might yield, are not their last words. Out of them Wiesel forges something much more affirmative. Optimism, faith, hope—those words are too facile to contain his outlook. Defiance, resistance, protest—those terms come closer, but even they have to be supplemented by an emphasis on friendship, dialogue, reaching out to others, helping people in need, working to make people free, and striving to mend the world.

This book’s greatest contribution is ethical and spiritual. It shows how Wiesel found ways to transform his suffering into sharing, his pain into caring. These transformations do not mean that Wiesel forgives any more than he forgets. The Holocaust was too immense, too devastating, to be redeemed by forgiveness that God or anyone else can give. Yet because the world has been shattered so severely, Wiesel believes that the moral imperative is to do all that one can to repair it. Otherwise, hatred and death win victories they never deserve.

Suggested Readings

Berenbaum, Michael. Elie Wiesel: God, the Holocaust, and the Children of Israel. West Orange, N.J.: Behrman House, 1994. This reprint of The Vision of the Void, Berenbaum’s thoughtful 1979 study of Elie Wiesel, emphasizes Wiesel’s insights about Jewish tradition.

Berenbaum, Michael. The Vision of the Void: Theological Reflections on the Works of Elie Wiesel. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1979.

Berger, Alan L. Crisis and Covenant: The Holocaust in American Jewish Fiction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985. Contains important reflections on Wiesel’s encounters with and impact on American Jewish life.

Boston Globe. November 26, 1995, p. 15.

Brown, Robert McAfee. Elie Wiesel: Messenger to All Humanity. Rev. ed. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989. A leading Christian theologian provides an important overview and interpretation of Wiesel’s multifaceted writing.

Cargas, Harry James. Conversations with Elie Wiesel. South Bend, Ind.: Justice Books, 1992. An updated and expanded edition of Cargas’s 1976 interviews with Wiesel, this important book features Wiesel speaking not only about the Holocaust but also about his audience, craft, and mission as a witness and writer.

Chicago Tribune. November 26, 1995, II, p. 2.

Ezrahi, Sidra DeKoven. By Words Alone: The Holocaust in Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980. Ezrahi insightfully discusses Wiesel’s writings in the context of a wide range of Holocaust literature.

International Herald Tribune. December 18, 1995, p. 9.

Horowitz, Sara. Voicing the Void: Muteness and Memory in Holocaust Fiction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997. Contains a helpful discussion of Wiesel’s emphasis on the importance of memory.

Langer, Lawrence L. The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1975. A leading Holocaust scholar interprets Wiesel’s work in ways that are insightful and accessible.

The Nation. CCLXI, December 25, 1995, p. 839.

New York. XXVIII, December 11, 1995, p. 72.

The New York Times Book Review. C, December 17, 1995, p. 7.

Patterson, David. The Shriek of Silence: A Phenomenology of the Holocaust Novel. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992. Patterson’s book explores the distinctive ways in which Wiesel wrestles with the theme of silence as a feature of the Holocaust and its aftermath.

Rittner, Carol, ed. Elie Wiesel: Between Memory and Hope. New York: New York University Press, 1990. Philosophers, theologians, and literary critics respond to the ethical, religious, and philosophical themes explored in Wiesel’s diverse writings.

Rosen, Alan, ed. Celebrating Elie Wiesel: Stories, Essays, Reflections. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998. Distinguished scholars reflect on the ethical and religious dimensions of Wiesel’s essays and novels.

Rosenfeld, Alvin H., and Irving Greenberg, eds. Confronting the Holocaust: The Impact of Elie Wiesel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978. Including “Why I Write,” a significant essay by Wiesel, this volume contains a balanced collection of worthwhile essays written by scholars from varied disciplines.

Roth, John K. A Consuming Fire: Encounters with Elie Wiesel and the Holocaust. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1979.

Roth, John K. A Consuming Fire: Encounters with Elie Wiesel and the Holocaust. Atlanta, Ga.: John Knox Press, 1979. This book explores key philosophical and religious themes in Wiesel’s authorship, drawing out their implications for post-Holocaust Christianity.

Roth, John K., and Frederick Sontag. The Questions of Philosophy. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1988. Wiesel’s perspectives on the relationships among God, evil, and human responsibility are discussed in a chapter entitled “How Should I Deal with Evil and Death?”

Stern, Ellen N. Elie Wiesel: Witness for Life. New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1982.

Wiesel, Elie, and Richard D. Heffner. Conversations with Elie Wiesel. Edited by Thomas J. Vinciguerra. New York: Schocken, 2001. A dialog between Wiesel and his interviewer. Offers the reader a wide-ranging discussion in which Wiesel touches on tolerance, nationalism, and state-endorsed killing.

John K. Roth

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