three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
40-May-June-2009
By: 
Elie Wiesel
user_rating: 
0

A-A Mad Desire to Dance

The Story: Doriel Waldman, an elderly Jewish New Yorker born in Poland, believes he has gone mad. He has suffered tremendously—first through World War II, where he hid with his father while his mother fought for the Resistance, and then through the murder of his siblings and the death of his parents after liberation. Raised in America by relatives, Doriel nonetheless identifies as an orphan, plunges into Judaism, and feels deeply tormented by anxiety, guilt, and ambiguities about his life: "Mad about my parents first, then about God, study, truth, beauty, and impossible love." He finally seeks help from a psychotherapist, Thérèse Goldschmidt, who—as a child of Holocaust survivors herself—struggles to put both of their lives back together.
Knopf. 288 pages. $25. ISBN: 0307266508

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Elie Wiesel once more confirms his influence as a master storyteller who can weave an intricate narrative into a complex portrait of a man at once obliterated and remade. … Even as we watch Doriel’s therapy (and the life of the therapist) unravel, Wiesel clues the reader that this story is about stories, and not about destruction." M. E. Collins

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Having some background in World War II history and Judaism is helpful in following the story, which is elaborate and fascinating, peopled with the men and women, real or imaginary, in Doriel’s life. … This is a book well worth reading, savoring and rereading." Lois D. Atwood

Richmond Times-Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"The stories draw Waldman and Goldschmidt together, and watching their unlikely and appealing relationship develop is one of the novel’s chief pleasures. … And it ends beautifully, with a shared note of unexpected hope." Doug Childers

Rocky Mountain News 3 of 5 Stars
"[Dr. Goldschmidt’s] occasional notes and discussions with her husband share the reader’s frustrations with Doriel and also provide some relief from the man’s outbursts and challenges. … An unlikable central character and an attempt to cover every possible range of thought and emotion make this a challenge—but worth it for Wiesel fans." Joan Hinkemeyer

Miami Herald 2.5 of 5 Stars
"A Mad Desire to Dance is densely written, and Doriel declares early on that it will be told without any concern for chronology. … Wiesel’s ferocious diatribe against the effects of meaningless suffering is relentless, humorless, often abstract, but its obduracy must be weighed against his unarguable experience." Elsbeth Lindner

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Although austerely written and at times thought-provoking, it treads familiar ground. … Despite its thematic possibilities, Wiesel’s narrative turns out to be uncomfortably simplistic." Mike Peed

San Francisco Chronicle 0.5 of 5 Stars
"If there is any man for whom the brute honesty of popular criticism ought to be waived, it is Elie Wiesel. … So it gives me little pleasure to say that Wiesel’s latest novel … is one of the most impenetrable books published by a major author in recent memory." Saul Austerlitz

Critical Summary

"Wiesel’s is among the truly great lives of the 20th century, his very presence an inspiration to many and a reminder of the enormous power of the word to combat injustice and evil," notes the San Francisco Chronicle. But in the eyes of this critic and others, Wiesel’s latest novel doesn’t measure up to his stature. About half praised Wiesel’s portrayal of Doriel’s deep angst and impressive knowledge of philosophy and ethics, Judaism, and politics; others commended the memorable characters and imagery. However, some reviewers thought A Mad Desire a heavy-handed, self-conscious, and somewhat banal look at a tormented soul, leavened only by Dr. Goldschmidt’s appeal. But readers with the patience to sift through difficult memories, dreams, and commentary will find A Mad Desire a challenging but ultimately rewarding book.