Wiesel, Elie(zer) (Vol. 5)

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Wiesel, Elie(zer) 1928–

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Born in Transylvania, "somewhere in the Carpathian mountains," Wiesel is now an American citizen writing "Jewish-inspired" novels in French. He and his family were sent to Auschwitz when Wiesel was fifteen; he emerged alone from Buchenwald when he was not quite seventeen, and he has spent his life trying to reconcile—in novels, stories, prose poems, and essays—the evil of Auschwitz and the apparent indifference of God. Whether Wiesel is an artist or simply a witness is of little importance; his fiction is probably the most powerful and passionate of all Holocaust writing. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Elie Wiesel's fourth book, The Town Beyond the Wall, marks a continuation of the anguished bitterness, born of the Nazi destruction of European Jewry, that characterized his earlier works….

The mood of the story is reminiscent of Kafka at his most depressed, of Samuel Beckett's "end of the world" dialogues, of that incredible Mexican novel of despair and brooding death, Juan Rulfo's Pedro Paramo. The central figure, the agonist, is Michael, a Jewish refugee from the Nazi holocaust….

[Much] of the story has been foreshadowed by the Kafkas and the Becketts of this century, men who are not in the least writing about anything like a Nazi or a Communist reign of terror. This passage about Michael's bleak life in Paris, for example, seems to pop right out of Kafka's wishfulfillment nightmare, Amerika: "One day the uncle in New York cut off his monthly money. He was angry, the uncle: his burst of charity was over."

And as for Michael's Hungarian imprisonment under the most mind-destroying circumstances, Wiesel appears to be translating Beckett's Malone Dies, Endgame, and Krapp's Last Tape into contemporary European geopolitical terms. Literary influences aside, however, The Town Beyond the Wall is moving and utterly absorbing….

Samuel I. Bellman, "The Agony Relived," in Congress Bi-Weekly, February 1, 1965, p. 14.

Part One of [The Oath] is entitled "The Old Man and the Child." Wiesel [here] underlines the "marriage" of two opposing forces, old age and childhood. We wait to see whether this relationship will lead to tears.

The first word of the section is "No." The old man does not want to speak of yesterdays; he prefers to remain silent forever. Of course, we are made to wonder about the secrets he holds, but we are even more puzzled by his strong denial of progress, of any tomorrows. He says: "There is no more tomorrow." He is at the end of the line; he is haunted by imminent (or past?) doom.

Before we can discover more about the old man—the entire novel is a series of unanswered questions—we are offered an italicized passage. The very presence of italics startles us—there is a hint of discontinuity between the certainty of the old man's denial and the wavy lines of speculation. Another person is obviously thinking, but his thoughts are more disturbing than the denial we have previously heard….

When the old man, who is named Azriel, speaks, he refuses to enlighten the stranger (and us) about Kolvillág. He wants to talk about everything else; and his unspoken words merely reinforce our desire to hear the forbidden secret. Wiesel shrewdly conveys the conflict between words and silence (one of his favorite themes). (p. 79)

Azriel has observed "scenes of apocalypse, nightmares begotten by sleeping corpses," but he is "sworn to silence." He cannot tell his story of survival, although he warns us darkly that "I am Kolvillág and I am going mad." It is ironic that he obsessively drops hints; he is a teasing storyteller or, better yet, a teasing story. He is being told—by some other storyteller . There is a sense of stories within stories, of words within words, worlds within worlds. Azriel understands the circularity of narration: "That is why you will not succeed in making me talk. I will...

(The entire section contains 4081 words.)

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Wiesel, Elie(zer) (Vol. 11)