The Gates Of The Forest, by Elie Wiesel
This book seems pretty much in the wheelhouse of Wisel’s writings if you are familiar with his fictional work as a whole. If this is your first encounter with one of his books that is not Night, there might be a lot of surprises, but if you have read some of the author’s work before there is a lot here that is strikingly familiar, although the work is a beautiful one. It is not necessary for a book to be surprising to be an enjoyable read, for even though this work presented few surprises, it was written very well and it was also the sort of book that provides for a lot of thought-provoking reflections on what it is like to not belong. As someone who is familiar with what it is like to be an outcast, it is easy to see this book as the sort of revenge fantasy of someone who has been rejected in one’s home area, and also a look at the way that the experience of trauma and abuse makes it difficult to form lasting relationships with others. There is little surprising about either of these elements, but the book is certainly well-written all the same.
Divided into four parts based on the seasons of the year, the book begins with a boy in a cave waiting for his father to come back. From there we see a certain degree of loss that happens over and over again, as a Hungarian town’s Jews are deported and sent off to the concentration camps (a fairly common staple, albeit an understandable one, in the author’s literature) and the boy is protected first by a somewhat strange Jewish partisan and then by a former Gentile maid who has him pretend to be a deaf-mute until he can no longer contain himself while he is being beaten as the Judas in a neighboring village’s passion play, and then by a partisan band where he proves himself to be brave and resourceful but not particularly violent. Finally, by the end of the novel we see the young man Gavriel struggling with a marriage in which he does not feel any longer emotionally in love, but in which there is still duty and commitment to be found, and he finds himself drawn to return to avoid abandoning his wife just as he was so often abandoned through the horrors of the Holocaust.
At some point, though, you have to wonder what the point of having yet another Elie Wiesel novel is if so many of them are so similar. The protagonist becomes a journalist (writer) of some kind, marries but is clearly still suffering from the war and is not exactly a loyal husband to his wife. How much of this is true of the author’s own life, and how much of it is he drawing from his observations of others or his imagination? It is hard to say without knowing a great deal about the author’s own personal life, but it is clear that he returns over and over again to the same elements, the same careers, the same ineffectual service in parisan bands, the same hostility towards Christianity and towards the people of Hungary and Transylvania who turned on the Jews in their darkest hours. The author clearly has some unresolved anti-Christian hostility to deal with, and it is striking that a writer who has written so often about anti-Semitism would feel its Christian equivalent so often in his literature and not recognize it as being the same sort of evil that he has spoken about. It is easier to preach against evil than to overcome it, though.