Page 74 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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JEW ISH BOOK ANNUAL
abandoned his Jewish faith bu t ironically is condemned to die ju s t
because he is a Jew du r ing the Stalin purges o f the early 1950’s.
While awaiting dea th in the prison walls, he writes a jo u rn a l o f
confession extracted by the examining magistrate. T he story o f
his life unfolds in this testament in which he remembers the
fa ther he left behind , and speaks ou t to his young son, Grisha,
who he hopes some day will read his words. T he docum en t is a
spiritual autobiography, a declaration o f literary intention and a
p ro found expression o f human emotion. Writing is a trap
designed to incriminate Paltiel, but it is also a mode o f survival.
H ere again, the fa ther is a condemned man bu t he is telling his
own tale. Wiesel has given a voice back to the fa ther th rough the
written word. Yet once again, the story is to remain unfinished .
Paltiel thinks he has no th ing to fear as long as he keeps on writing.
However, the magistrate receives a surprise call from Moscow
o rd e r ing the execution o f the poet at dawn before a trial has even
taken place. T he story is never completed, bu t the testament is
eventually transm itted to Paltiel’s son, taken ou t o f the secret files
by the court stenographer.
At the age o f three , Grisha had already discovered a trace o f his
fa the r ’s presence. One day in the apa r tm en t where he and his
mo the r lived, a book fell from the highest shelf. T he book, fo rb id ­
den and inaccessible like th
ePinkas
in
The Oath,
was pu t back in its
h idden place. Yet Grisha had caught a glimpse o f the man on the
cover and was told finally tha t it was his father. When the boy is
alone he secretly leafs th rough the pages o f the book, fingering its
words and caressing its lines as if it were a living being. T he tru th
reveals itself to the child: “My fa ther is no t dead. My fa the r is a
book and books do not die.”
This simple and innocent declaration is the key to Wiesel’s writ­
ing. T he Book commemorates the fa ther, testifies to the fa ther,
is
the father. T he Book is the sanctuary, the temple, the meeting
g round where the fa the r and son can unite. T he Book is home to
an exiled people who become the people o f the Book. T h e writ­
e r ’s task is to preserve the autonomy o f the Book th rough the lan­
guage o f memory. T h e fa th e r’s story is not finished bu t it never
ends, for the son has transform ed it into a living text.
With words and with silence, Elie Wiesel continues each year to
build his literary house. He explores the Jewish past and the Jew ­
ish condition today, creating a universe in which his characters
reveal his inner conflicts and doubts. At times disillusioned with a