Page 63 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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ELLEN S. FINE
lie Wiesel’s Literary Legacy:
he Making of a Witness
LIE
W
ie sel
HAS
rem a rked that the creation o f a literary edifice is
ike tha t o f a house: Each floor must build upon the one tha t has
receded it, and at the same time go one step fu rthe r , opening the
ay to a new and h igher level o f meaning. His own works are con­
tructed in ju s t this way. Themes, images, and characters p re ­
ented in his first
booY ,N igh t,
are repeated and developed in the
ore than twenty volumes tha t follow, including his novels, plays,
tories, essays, hasidic tales and biblical portraits. Wiesel sees him ­
elf as a messenger, a storyteller and above all a witness whose
ission as a Jew and a survivor is to testify to his encoun ter with
istory, to the events tha t structured his life before, du r ing and
fter the Nazi Holocaust. A close examination o f his literary un i­
erse with particular emphasis on his novels reveals how Wiesel’s
wn spiritual-intellectual odyssey is reflected in his creative testi­
ony. By tracing the stages through which his protagonists p ro ­
ress as they transform themselves from victims to moral
essengers, we can glimpse the story behind the story, tha t is to
ay the au tho r’s struggle to find a voice.
In o rd e r to understand Wiesel’s fictional portrayal o f what he
alls “the witnesses o f the witness,” it is first necessary to consider
hat compelled him to become a writer and the prom inence
iven to the written word in his life. Elie Wiesel was born in 1928
n Sighet, a Transylvanian town nestled in the Carpathian moun­
ains with a Jewish population o f about 15,000. Now a par t o f
umania, the town belonged to Hungary du r ing World War II.
s a young O rthodox Jewish boy growing up in the
shtetl,
Wiesel
as encouraged by his mother, daugh ter o f a fervent Hasid, to
tudy the To rah , Talmud , Cabbala, and teachings o f the hasidic
asters. His father, a middle-class shopkeeper devoted to work­
g fo r the Jewish community, instilled humanist values in his
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