In present-day New York, Gamaliel Friedman, a Czech Jew who survived World War II when a Christian cabaret singer named Ilonka passed him off as a Christian boy, visits a dying, silent, and disfigured woman. Could she be the Ilonka of his memory? At the mysterious woman’s hospital bed, Gamaliel recounts his past with sadness and regret—his abandonment of Ilonka, his failed love affairs, his wife’s suicide, his estranged relationship with his daughters, and his unsatisfying writing career. Some solace comes from his circle of refugee Jews and his manuscript, The Secret Book, but it will never displace the rootlessness Gamaliel will always feel.
Knopf. 320 pages. $25. ISBN: 1400041724
Los Angeles Times
"Apart from being a stupendously artful novel, it is also a redemptive read, a forward-looking book from the perspective of a Holocaust survivor looking back. The perfect post-Holocaust novel from the man who for many has come to symbolize the Holocaust itself." Thane Rosenbaum
"The Secret Book, then, gives a parable of cosmic events that forced all the uprooted, the Jews who survived and the Christians who were abandoned by their Church, to face unaided their own choices between life and death. . . . The search for roots is a widespread concern in a time when millions of people from all continents are refugees, economic migrants, displaced persons." Arthur M. Lesley
"Structurally fragmented, frequently abstract and built on the most somber of foundations, this novel nevertheless is expressive of a life-force, evident in the cumulative stories of its aging characters. . . . [W]hile the grief is still as great and the continuity still as wracking, there are suggestions of a different, mellower shading." Elsbeth Lindner
Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel
"Often Wiesel’s characters speak more like rabbis debating minute Talmudic points than real people. . . . Soon, though, it becomes clear that these debates are very much a part of the story, which is about moral choices." Curt Schleier
San Francisco Chronicle
"Wiesel’s anger lashes out in what some might consider surprising directions. . . . Like the new Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, which is intended to disorient visitors and strip away their preconceptions, Wiesel’s novel has both a deceptive ordinariness and a hypnotic quality." Steve Kettmann
Rocky Mountain News
"Although the novel is often difficult to follow because Wiesel switches time and place without warning, it’s engrossing. The author’s eloquent use of language is a strength, as well as his ability to abandon sentiment and go directly to the heart of the matter." Frank L. Kaplan
"The true theme of this novel, as simple as it is profound, is summed up in the words of Gamaliel’s mother: ‘You find the world in people’s hearts.’ The rest is a distraction." Merle Rubin
Starting with Night (1958), Wiesel, who survived the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, has testified against Holocaust atrocities and revealed the collective Jewish experience in more than 40 works of fiction and nonfiction. Recipient of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts on behalf of oppressed people, Wiesel has become the spokesman for a lost generation. His newest novel, like his other work, raises moral questions about love, faith, survival, politics, and exile. A few critics thought these themes too diffuse; the disjointed style similarly jarred some. But the consensus is that The Time of the Uprooted is an artful, redemptive, and ultimately humbling exploration of the Holocaust’s lasting emotional impact.
Where to Start
Wiesel’s readers are probably most familiar with his memoir, Night. He is, however, also a prolific fiction writer. Start with The Gates of the Forest (1966), about a Hungarian Jew who survives because of others’ sacrifices, or The Fifth Son (1985), which explores good and evil when a stepchild of a Holocaust survivor takes revenge on an SS officer.