A dialogue between two friends who have been prominent 20th-century figures on such topics as wide-ranging as childhood,...



A dialogue between two friends who have been prominent 20th-century figures on such topics as wide-ranging as childhood, faith, war, and literature. The contrasts between the late French president Fran‡ois Mitterrand (The Wheat and the Chaff, 1982), who died in January of this year, and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel (All Rivers Run To the Sea, 1995, etc.) resound more emphatically than any similarities. While Mitterrand's childhood was almost idyllic, Wiesel's was haunted by fear: ""Fear of anti-semitic thugs, fear of demons, fear of God."" Yet it was Mitterrand--raised as a practicing Catholic--who came to doubt the existence of a supreme being after experiencing the cruelties and injustices of WW II. Wiesel, on the other hand, accepts that certain things may be beyond human understanding. And although it is Wiesel who went through the horrors of the Holocaust, it is Mitterrand who holds the more pessimistic view of mankind (""We have still not evolved beyond the barbaric stage of evolution""). Both express horror at the recent resurgence of dangerous religious fanaticism. The fundamentalist, insists Wiesel, ""denies the right of inquiry and therefore negates culture."" While Mitterrand has been sympathetic to Jews and the Jewish state, he expresses considerable empathy with the Palestinian cause. A two-state solution, he insists, is the only just one. Wiesel is less than optimistic and more wary of the Palestinians. The book's last two sections involve discussions on literature and power. Wiesel leans to Kafka, where Mitterrand prefers Tolstoy. The writer generously draws from the politician his ideas about creativity and does not offer his own theories on the dynamics of leadership. Indeed, Wiesel is often playing the role of the admiring interviewer here, but the more profound and readable comments are his. Not the intimate memoir of its title, nor a place to glean insights into the personal lives of these two public figures. But private thoughts on significant public issues abound.

Pub Date: July 1, 1996


Page Count: 192

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996