This is a story about an old Jewish man who thinks he is mad but not mad enough to not seek help. Because he seeks help with a ferocity that would make a young girl blush if you told her she was the prettiest thing you’d ever seen. Which is more or less what the old man does by the end of the story in seeking out a random young woman in a coffee shop, befriending her, and evidently making a life with her. But before that, he tries to “cure” himself of his madness by seeking out the services of a psycho-therapist, another Jewish woman who truly wishes to help him out but has issues of her own. The arrangement is actually mutually beneficial because at the end of the sessions, a breakthrough has indeed occurred in terms of recalling memories embedded within memories from years past that go all the way back to his childhood. A fine example of the value of psychoanalysis, I suppose, but this story is more than that.
It is a story about feeling guilty about not feeling guilty enough. For surviving the holocaust, among other things, the most common reason of guilt that besets many a post-World War II survivor. And for having a life of comfort that has come about in the most extraordinary of circumstances. This is actually the twist to the story that is revealed only at the very end of the book, well after all the therapy sessions are done and over with.
At the end of it all, there is at last a kind of redemption that the old man is afforded. This is a hopeful story: one about finding love in your sunset years, taking risks no matter the risk, reconciling oneself with one’s view of history, and forging ahead to a future that is entirely of your making.
Bravo, Mr. Wiesel! I must check out your other work.