Interactions between a patient and his therapist elucidate the human condition in the latest from Nobel Prize winner Wiesel (The Time of the Uprooted, 2005, etc.).
“Is a madman who knows he’s mad really mad?” the narrator imagines the reader asking on the first page of the novel. “Or: In a mad world, isn’t the madman who is aware of his madness the only sane person?” The novel’s self-absorbed protagonist, Doriel Waldman, might not be mad at all, though he could well be delusional, is obviously troubled and is very much alone. He’s also uncommonly bright and perceptive, a challenge for his female therapist, whose notes on her sessions with Doriel comprise much of the novel that isn’t his narration. During the course of their therapy sessions, she learns of his life with his parents in Brooklyn—his mother, who could pass as Aryan and served in the undercover Resistance, and his father, whose features were more recognizably Jewish. Both of them died in an automobile accident after the war, and both of his siblings are dead as well. The orphaned Doriel came to live in Brooklyn with relatives, failing to fill the hole left by the deaths in his family with a series of encounters with girls and women, who may or may not be imaginary. His doctor knows he is independently wealthy, but not why, and she suspects that he may be a virgin, though he is somewhere around 60 years old. With most of the novel transpiring in Doriel’s memory and in his sessions, he seems less like a madman than an existential Everyman, one for whom “being born is more like exile than liberation.” He finds himself in a state of perpetual fear, “a fear that is not yet death but that is no longer life.” Yet the novel ultimately ends on an affirmative note, a triumph of life’s dance of desire over the madness that is a living death.
Philosophy meets psychology in this profound, often poetic novel.