cover image Hostage


Elie Wiesel, trans. from the French by Catherine Temerson. Knopf, $25.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-307-59958-2

A provocative “what-if” premise propels Nobel laureate Wiesel’s (Night) latest novel. In 1975, an Orthodox Jewish man, Shaltiel Feigenberg, is kidnapped from a Brooklyn street and held hostage by two terrorists, an Arab and an Italian, who demand the release of Palestinians and threaten death if their demands aren’t met. Shaltiel, a kindly storyteller, ruminates on the blessings of Judaism and recalls the words of Jewish prophets, philosophers, and mystics with nostalgia. He also remembers the moral ambiguity of being hidden in his native Galicia by a Nazi officer while his family labored in Auschwitz. Wiesel deplores ideologies that mislead and betray, including the communism that lured Shaltiel’s brother in the 1930s. As Shaltiel’s Arab captor spews hatred and his Italian captor speaks for international terrorism, Shaltiel claims that the excesses of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians are unavoidable safety measures. While the clock ticks closer to the deadline, Wiesel’s narrative skills fail to create tension, and Shaltiel’s rescue is perfunctory. Instead of a literary thriller, we get a didactic defense of the Jewish state and its timeless vulnerability. Agent: Georges Borchardt. (Aug. 24)