From the prolific Nobelist, a novel rather artificially constructed—but for the worthy purpose of looking inside to find what meaning life can hold for any of us.
An airliner en route to Israel is forced down at a small airport on the blizzard-swept east coast, where the “survivors” are picked up by locals and given shelter until as the plane can take off again. Five of them are so unlucky as to be escorted home by a very strange man indeed, who puts them—imprisons them—in a sealed room, announces himself a “judge,” and declares his intent to play “games” with what’s most precious to them, “the power of their imagination.” As the “games” grow increasingly sinister—the judge at first insists only that each reveal something personal, but before the long night is over he’ll demand that one be chosen as an assassination victim—the travelers, increasingly frightened, become also increasingly introspective, so that we learn more and more about each of their lives. There is Claudia, a theater producer and director; Bruce Schwarz, an aging roué; Yoav, an Israeli soldier with a secret deadly disease; George Kirsten, a scholarly archivist; and, most central, Razziel Friedman, head of a Talmudic school in Brooklyn. As the life of each is revealed, so is the reason each has for continuing to live: a love affair, a historically important paper to deliver, or, as in Razziel’s case, an appointment with a mysterious figure who is to restore to him the memory of his life before age 18, lost in the ruinous trauma of his having been a political prisoner. There will be moments of memory, kindness, breakdown, pensiveness, and terror before an ending that (engineered by the judge’s hunchback “servant”) will seem convincing perhaps to few. But no matter. Wiesel, by then, will have entered the hearts, rewardingly, both of his characters and of his readers.
Human, unpretentious, compelling explorations of what we are, and why.