Page 72 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

Basic HTML Version

6 6
JEW ISH BOOK ANNUAL
ble in these novels often acts as a spiritual guide o r teacher, each
having a name containing the expression “El” o r the pa r t o f God:
Gavriel (man o f God) in
The Gates of the Forest
and Katriel (crown
o f God) in
A Beggar in Jerusalem}
T he narrative is struc tu red
around the quest for the o the r who disappears af te r a meaningful
encoun ter with the protagonist, suggesting on some level the lost
fa the r o r the lost God.
T he theme o f the witness reaches a tr ium phan t climax at the
conclusion o f
A Beggar in Jerusalem,
paralleling the historical vic­
tory o f the Israeli nation in the 1967 Six Day War. T he liberation
and unification o f Jerusa lem inspire David, the na rra to r , to
acknowledge his own privileged position o f critical link in a chain
jo in ing many d ifferen t generations o f Jewish history. He loses all
sense o f boundaries as his voice and memory expand , and the role
o f the witness reaches myth-like proportions.
In contrast, the next novel,
The Oath
(1973) contests the mission
o f bearing witness. On one hand , the task is glorified by Shmuel,
the n a r ra to r ’s fa the r and town scribe who devotes his life to
reco rd ing daily in the
Pinkas
, the historical chronicle o f Kolvillag,
an Eastern European community. For the first time in Wiesel’s
fiction, the fa ther is depicted as a character in his own righ t ra th e r
than a surrogate. He is primarily a reco rde r o f events, obsessed
with what Wiesel refers to in
One Generation After
as “a veritable
passion to testify fo r the fu tu re against dea th and oblivion, a
passion conveyed by every possible means o f expression.” During
the course o f the narrative Shmuel is perpe tually taking notes so
tha t we, the readers, are present at the actual act o f bearing
witness.
On the o the r hand , Moshe, the mad seer o f Kolvillag, a
modern-day Moses, admits the failure o f language and proposes
silence as an alternative to testimony, o r as a form o f testimony.
T he importance bestowed upon words and the ir transmission, so
essential to Jewish tradition , is challenged by Moshe. T h e refusal
to testify, the abdication o f the word is defiantly advocated as a
path not yet explored. T h e con temporary p rophe t, a composite
o f the mad Moshes who appear th roughou t Wiesel’s writings,
2 Each of Wiesel’s protagonists has an “El” in his name: Eliezer (God is help);
Elisha (God is salvation); Michael (who is like God); Azriel (God’s help); and
Paltiel (God is my refuge). It is interesting to note that the author’s first and last
names begin and end with “El.”