Twilight, by Elie Wiesel. 1987 Summit Books (NY, London, Toronto, Sydney, Tokyo), hardbound, 217 pages.
Some of the most moving literature of the 20th century has been penned by Elie Wiesel, and Twilight is no exception. Twilight is Wiesel’s first book since his Nobel Peace Prize (received in Oslo, 1986). The book continues to pose the question which has haunted Mr. Wiesel all of his adult life: Where was God during the Holocaust?”
The Holocaust theme is typical of Wiesel, but the setting for this novel is unique: an upstate New York clinic that specializes in treating people who suffer from delusions of grandeur. We meet, among others, Adam, Cain, Abel, Joseph—even “the Messiah.” The hero of the story, Raphael Lipkin, is a visiting professor seeking insights into his own past. His interviews with patients are interspersed with a series of flashbacks from Lipkin’s (or Wiesel’s?) life, taking the reader on a tour of Eastern Europe before, during, and after the Second World War.
Wiesel’s characters struggle to find meaning in life despite its mysteries and madness. They ask such questions as: Could God be mad? If he is, what hope is there for the human race? Could life be nothing more than the whim of a mad imagination?
Twilight is a tragic, moving, depressing and yet sometimes funny story. Wiesel views life as a gift from God, and meaning its hidden treasure. Death is the robber which steals life’s meaning. The Holocaust is the ultimate crook, tearing away a piece of every Jewish heart and leaving in its place a larger-than-life question mark, aimed primarily Godward.
Anyone, and especially any Jew, who has not heard about the Holocaust directly from the lips of a survivor should read at least one of Elie Wiesel’s books. The death of six million Jews is too important a piece of Jewish life to be forgotten. Twilight, a mixture of fact and fiction, gives glimpses of Jewish history, but focuses even more on Jewish interpretation of life, death, Scripture and God.
This reviewer suggests that Twilight is a book worth adding to your reading list, for in addition to the author’s literary talent, the reader will gain insight into Wiesel’s perspective vis-a-vis the Holocaust. It is important to note that Wiesel’s views are shared by countless Jews who, like Wiesel, seek to understand God in relation to the Holocaust rather than understanding the Holocaust in relation to what God says about himself and about the human race. Acts of inhumanity on the part of people are wrongly translated into indifference or impotence on the part of God and this transference, or blameshifting, is behind every pen or fist which has ever been shaken at the Almighty.
A word of caution to the mishpochah: though Twilight is a gripping novel it is important not to be caught in the grip of Wiesel’s cynicism. We should share in the pain of our people but not in the perspective which measures God in terms of our suffering rather than acknowledging God and his Word as the measure of all things.