Page 63 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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H a lp e r i n — W e i s e l ’s
The Gates of the Forest
Surely it is no disservice to art to approach stories on the
Holocaust with the kind of passion evident in a writer like Wiesel.
For such tales “writ in blood,” can one not respect the writer
who risks underdistance rather than the reverse? In any event, to
argue that since the literal facts of the Holocaust are often un­
bearable, they must be altered and made acceptable to the literary
imagination is a curious prescription. Why is it inappropriate to
insist that the services of craft be employed to make the literal
facts of the tragedy even
unendurable? Is, for example,
Last of the Just
by Andre Schwarz-Bart any the worse a book
because the ending, when Ernie Levy and Golda go to their
deaths in a gas chamber, is presented in a realistic manner, with­
out recourse to the strategies and devices of the literary imagina­
tion? Instead of being concerned about whether the author has
used “diversionary tactics” and “ imaginative ways around the
atrocities,” professional critics perhaps might well be advised to
determine whether the work is, to cite again the words of Daiches,
“ an important document of modern consciousness.”
In any event, if one places some of the “ cooler” writers on
the Holocaust beside Wiesel, they generally appear unsatisfactory.
The latter’s books are powerful, painful documents of tremendous
moral force. They burn through the reader’s defenses. In sum,
then, Wiesel’s work is significant because it rigorously attempts
to probe the moral center of some Holocaust experiences.
Nowhere in this writer’s work is such questioning more clearly
evident than in his fifth novel,
The Gates of the Forest.
And it is
to analyze and interpret some key moments in Wiesel’s attempts
to grapple with the Holocaust as a literary experience that I shall
now turn to this book.
The Limits of Suffering
The Gates of the Forest
tests the limits of suffering and the
possibilities of fervor as a desideratum for human conduct. Alter­
nately, the protagonist, Gregor, views the world as benign and
then as a malevolent place; or as the narrator describes Gregor’s
conflict: “ . . . a life-and-death struggle between two angels, the
angel of love and the angel of wrath, the angel of promise and
the angel of evil.”
The opening scene of the novel is set within a forest of Tran­
sylvania during World War II. Gregor (his real name is Gavriel,
but he has assumed a Christian name largely as a symbolic pro­
test against the persecution he suffered as a Jew) has managed
to escape the tragic fate of the Jewish community where he had
lived. Now he is hiding from the enemy in a forest which affords
him a sense of protection. In Gregor’s mind, the forest is emble­