The moment that Elie Wiesel stepped onstage and gave his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in 1986 was the moment he became the public figure people most associate with survivors of the Holocaust. He turned into the living embodiment of survival—not just a hero for Jews, but for all of humanity, a man who not only lived through one of the darkest periods in history but was also able to relive it all through his writing.
But it’s important to remember, when talking about Mr. Wiesel as a writer, that he won the Nobel Peace Prize, not the medal for literature. While being an ambassador for peace is as noble as the Nobel gets, Mr. Wiesel did not receive the award for his prose—he won it because, according to the press release from the Nobel committee, he was one of the “most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterize the world.” The release goes on several times to make mention of Mr. Wiesel’s “message,” but never once talks about his body of written works, which at present comprises 57 novels—including Night, the high school required reading that chronicles his experiences in the concentration camps and his liberation from them—two plays and a great deal that has yet to be translated from his native Yiddish. The main reason being that Elie Wiesel is a symbol, a public figure and a writer, in that order. At 83, it is his symbolic status that is most at stake in his latest novel, Hostage (Knopf, 224 pp., $25.95). Read More