The son of Reuven Tamiroff is obsessed with his father’s background and the total inability to share it with him. They live in New York having a quiet and somewhat withdrawn life, especially since the boy’s mother has become ill and lives away from them. The boy misses her intensely but Reuven will not speak any more of her than he does at revealing any of his life during the Holocaust. Fortunately for the boy, who is quickly maturing, this quiet librarian has two good friends who often come and spend the Sabbath with them. He can get them to start reminiscing, telling tales about their past, until the father silences them with a grimace or a reprimand.
The son slowly becomes devoured with the burning need to discover his father, to open the wounds if necessary in order to expose the life of the man who gave him life. To do this is an agony. The son grows, maturing almost a secondary person, defaulting to the rhythms and secrets he is gradually learning about his father. Finally he has learned enough. Acknowledging the terrible life in the ghetto during the worst of the war, realizing his father and his two friends witnessed horrible murders, the suffering beyond endurance pushes him to a pivotal voyage. This pilgrimage takes him to the place where he sees the obsessed object of his father’s distressed and twisted existence. The son restores a truth and perhaps some peace of mind to his father, but at the same time assumes the paternal anguish and sense of total heaviness that life can be.
Elie Wiesel writes THE FIFTH SON in a somewhat complex manner. Chronologies are twisted in painful manners, and the reader needs to let the pages flow in order for the where and when to come into focus. THE FIFTH SON is piercingly anguished.
Abrahamson, Irving, ed. Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel, 1985 (three volumes).
Brown, Robert McAfee. Elie Wiesel: Messenger to All Humanity, 1983.
Fine, Ellen S. Legacy of Night: The Literary Universe of Elie Wiesel, 1982.
Mano, D. Keith. “An Omen or Three,” in The National Review. XXXVII (July 12, 1985), pp. 57-59.
Morton, Frederic. “Execution as an Act of Intimacy,” in The New York Times Book Review. XC (March 24, 1985), p. 8.