Open Heart

( 19 )

Overview

Translated by Marion Wiesel

A profoundly and unexpectedly intimate, deeply affecting summing up of his life so far, from one of the most cherished moral voices of our time.

Eighty-two years old, facing emergency heart surgery and his own mortality, Elie Wiesel reflects back on his life. Emotions, images, faces and questions flash through his mind. His family before and during the unspeakable Event. The gifts of marriage and children and ...

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Overview

Translated by Marion Wiesel

A profoundly and unexpectedly intimate, deeply affecting summing up of his life so far, from one of the most cherished moral voices of our time.

Eighty-two years old, facing emergency heart surgery and his own mortality, Elie Wiesel reflects back on his life. Emotions, images, faces and questions flash through his mind. His family before and during the unspeakable Event. The gifts of marriage and children and grandchildren that followed. In his writing, in his teaching, in his public life, has he done enough for memory and the survivors? His ongoing questioning of God—where has it led? Is there hope for mankind? The world’s tireless ambassador of tolerance and justice has given us this luminous account of hope and despair, an exploration of the love, regrets and abiding faith of a remarkable man.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A successful husband, father, grandfather, teacher, and writer, [Mr. Wiesel] is an asset to humankind. He has turned despondency into a message of approval and optimism…Mr. Wiesel packages equal parts beauty and astonishing description in an impossibly concise manner. Few authors have possessed such capacity for succinctness and brevity with magnificent dexterity.”
-NY Journal of Books

“An absorbing, clear-eyed reflection on [Wiesel’s] own mortality and a candid account of a life lived…Open Heart is Wiesel at his most vulnerable and his most determined, and his thoughts and ideas have never been so lucidly conveyed.”
-The Rumpus

“The reader…becomes a quiet observer of Wiesel’s thoughts, which are plagued by the question: ‘Am I ready to die?’ His answer, clearly, is no…What seems like a quick and easy read actually delves deeply into the philosophical and makes you wonder:  Will I be ready when it’s my time?”
The Free Lance-Star

Library Journal
Although the title might belong to any one of his cri-de-coeur novels—and in fact expresses his own moral fervency—this book is a memoir by the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has done so much to help us to see the horrors of the Holocaust and the need vigilantly to choose between good and evil. In summer 2011, at age 82, Wiesel had open heart surgery, resulting in five bypasses. Before the surgery, he reflected on key aspects of his life, to give us this brief but undoubtedly bracing study. With a 30,000-copy first printing.
Kirkus Reviews
Having survived the Holocaust and Bernard Madoff, Nobel Prize–winning novelist and memoirist Wiesel (Hostage, 2012, etc.) faces mortality in this slender, elegant meditation. A few days short of the beginning of summer in 2011, Wiesel, complaining of acid reflux, went to see a gastroenterologist, who immediately pronounced, "It's your heart." There was no time to waste, he added, though Wiesel, with characteristic resolve, took a few hours to cancel appointments and otherwise clear his calendar against the possibility that he might never return to it. Wheeled to the operating room, he instructed the anesthesiologist to wait until he recited the Shema Yisrael, upon finishing which he said, in a small voice, "Now I am yours." The procedure, a matter of opening the chest to expose and repair the heart, went without incident, though it left Wiesel weak for a long time thereafter--and made him walk, he complains, like an old man, grumbling, "after all, I am only eighty-two!" It is mostly the metaphysical and not physical aftereffects that concern him here, though: He wrestles with God while remembering to say his prayers (and the one-word exchange he proposes to hold with God on their encounter is worth reading this small book to get to); he wrestles with the events of the years and with his regrets, not least of which, touchingly for a longtime professor, is having to cancel class on account of illness. Though he recognizes that the clock is ticking, the conclusion of Wiesel's little book is eminently hopeful and, indeed, as inspirational as anything he has ever written. His pains linger, Wiesel writes, but "if I forget them for a while, they quickly remind me of their presence." Just so, a most memorable book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307961846
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/4/2012
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 178,814
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Elie Wiesel was fifteen years old when he was deported to Auschwitz. After the war he became a journalist and writer in Paris, and since then has written more than fifty books, both fiction and nonfiction. His masterwork, Night, was a major best seller when it was republished recently in a new English translation. Wiesel has been awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the French Legion of Honor’s Grand Cross, an honorary knighthood of the British Empire and, in 1986, the Nobel Peace Prize. Since 1976 he has been the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University.

Biography

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky." Since the publication of this passage in Night, Elie Wiesel has devoted his life to ensuring that the world never forgets the horrors of the Holocaust, and to fostering the hope that they never happen again.

Wiesel was 15 years old when the Nazis invaded his hometown of Sighet, Romania. He and his family were taken to Auschwitz, where his mother and the youngest of his three sisters died. He and his father were later transported to Buchenwald, where his father died shortly before Allied forces liberated the camp in 1945. After the war, Wiesel attended the Sorbonne in Paris and worked for a while as a journalist. He met the Nobel Prize-winning writer Francois Mauriac, who helped persuade Wiesel to break his private vow never to speak of his experiences in the death camps.

During a long recuperation from a car accident in New York City in 1956, Wiesel decided to make his home in the United States. His memoir Night, which appeared two years later (compressed from an earlier, longer work, And the World Remained Silent), was initially met with skepticism. "The Holocaust was not something people wanted to know about in those days," Wiesel later said in a Time magazine interview.

But eventually the book drew recognition and readers. "A slim volume of terrifying power" (The New York Times), Night remains one of the most widely read works on the Holocaust. It was followed by over 40 more books, including novels, essay collections and plays. Wiesel's writings often explore the paradoxes raised by his memories: he finds it impossible to speak about the Holocaust, yet impossible to remain silent; impossible to believe in God, yet impossible not to believe.

Wiesel has also worked to bring attention to the plight of oppressed people around the world. "When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant," he said in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. "Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must -- at that moment -- become the center of the universe."

Though lauded by many as a crusader for justice, Wiesel has also been criticized for his part in what some see as the commercialization of the Holocaust. In his 2000 memoir And the Sea Is Never Full, Wiesel shares some of his own qualms about fame and politics, but reiterates what he sees as his duty as a survivor and witness:

''The one among us who would survive would testify for all of us. He would speak and demand justice on our behalf; as our spokesman he would make certain that our memory would penetrate that of humanity. He would do nothing else.''

Good To Know

Use of the term "Holocaust" to describe the extermination of six million Jews and millions of other civilians by the Nazis is widely thought to have originated in Night.

Two of Wiesel's subsequent works , Dawn and The Accident, form a kind of trilogy with Night. "These stories live deeply in all that I have written and all that I am ever going to write," the author has said.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Wiesel to be chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust in 1978. In 1980, Wiesel became founding chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. He is also the founding president of the Paris-based Universal Academy of Cultures and cofounder of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.

Since 1969, Marion Wiesel has translated her husband Elie's books from French into English. They live in New York City and have one son.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Eliezer Wiesel (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 30, 1928
    2. Place of Birth:
      Sighet, Romania
    1. Education:
      La Sorbonne

Read an Excerpt

1

June 16, 2011.

“It’s your heart,” says the gastroenterologist after performing an endoscopy on me.

I am surprised: “Not my stomach?”

For some time now, acid reflux has been one of my nightmares. My longtime general practitioner also feels it has contributed to the various health problems that have afflicted me for the past several years.

My wife, Marion, and I have just returned from Jerusalem, where, every year, we spend the holiday of Shavuot with close friends. In keeping with the tradition to which I have remained faithful, friends and I spent the night in a yeshiva in the Old City studying biblical and Talmudic laws and commentaries dating from the Middle Ages.

This time, in Jerusalem, it had all gone well. No terrorist attacks. No border incidents. Even my cursed migraines seemed to respect the sanctity of this night, of this city unlike any other. But now, back in New York, suddenly my body revolts. The new piercing pain in my shoulders rises all the way to my jaw. I swallow a double dose of Nexium, the medicine I take for acid reflux. This time without success.

“No, neither the stomach nor the esophagus,” replies the doctor after a moment of silence. “It’s certainly the heart.” Ominous words, inducing fear and the promise of more pain. Or worse.

2

as soon as he receives his colleague’s message, my primary care doctor, a cardiologist, reaches me at home. On the phone, he appears to be out of breath; he speaks in a tense, emphatic voice, louder than usual. I have the feeling that he is trying to contain or even hide his nervousness, his concern. Clearly, he is unhappy to have to give me this bad news that will change so many things for me . . .

“I expected a different result,” he explains. “But now the situation requires some further tests immediately.”

“Yes?”

“Please come to Lenox Hill Hospital right away. I am already there.”

I protest: “Why? Because it’s the heart? Is it really that urgent? I have never had a problem with my heart. With my head, yes; my stomach too. And sometimes with my eyes. But the heart has left me in peace.”

At that, he explodes: “This conversation makes no sense. I am your cardiologist, for heaven’s sake! Please don’t argue with me! You must take a number of tests that can only be administered at the hospital. Come as quickly as you can! And take the emergency entrance!”

On occasion, I can be incredibly stupid and stubborn. And so I nevertheless steal two hours to go to my office. I have things to attend to. Appointments to cancel. Letters to sign. People to see—among others, a delegation of Iranian dissidents.

Strange, all this time I am not really worried, though by nature I am rather anxious and pessimistic. My heart does not beat faster. My breathing is normal. No pain. No premonitions. No warning. After all, hadn’t I just three days ago gone through a complete checkup with all kinds of tests, including a cardiogram, administered by my physician, the same one who is now ordering me to the hospital? There had been no indication of a coronary problem: no chest pain or feeling of oppression. What has changed so abruptly in my body to destabilize it to this extent?

All right, I’ll go to the hospital, since both doctors insist. I don’t take anything along. No books, no spare shirt, no toothbrush. Marion says she wants to accompany me. I try to discourage her. In vain.

3

a team of specialists is waiting for me in the emergency room. The very first blood test instantly reveals the gravity of my condition. There is a definite risk of heart attack. The doctors exchange incomprehensible comments in their own jargon. Their conclusion is quick, unambiguous and unanimous: An immediate procedure is required. There can be no delay.

Marion whispers in my ear that we are fortunate; she has just learned that the surgeon who will perform the angiogram is the one who operated on her two years earlier. I remember him, a handsome, strikingly intelligent man. I had been struck by his kindness as much as by his competence.

“I hope,” he tells me, “that we will be able to do for you what we succeeded in doing for your wife: to restore a normal flow of blood in the arteries by inserting a stent.” But then he adds, looking grave, “I must warn you that we may have to intervene in a more radical way. We will know very soon.”

I am drowsy and fight against sleep by trying to follow the brief professional exchanges in the operating room. Actually, I don’t understand a word. About an hour later, I hear the surgeon saying, “I am so sorry, I don’t have good news for you: Your condition is such that the insertion of a stent won’t suffice. You have five blocked arteries. You require open-heart surgery.”

I am shaken. Sure, I know that these days open-heart surgery is regularly performed the world over. Dr. Christiaan Barnard’s face appears before me; I had met the famous surgeon at a conference in Haifa and we had engaged in a long dialogue on medical ethics, comparing Judaic and Christian points of view. I had looked at his hands, wondering how many human beings owed them their survival.

But now the words “open-heart surgery” are meant for me. And they fill me with dread.

“You’re lucky. A colleague of mine, an expert in this type of surgery, is at the hospital right now. I have spoken to him. He is ready to operate on you.”

“Doctor,” I ask, “have you told my wife?”

“No, but I will do it right now.”

In a moment he is back: “I’ve seen Marion. As well as your son, Elisha.”

The fact that my beloved son is already at the hospital does not surprise me. Since his earliest childhood, he has always made me proud, always been there for me.

“What do they think?”

“They agree; we have no choice. But the decision is yours alone.”

“May I see them?”

Marion and Elisha are not good at hiding their anxiety. Their smiles seem forced. And how am I to hug them without falling apart? Marion, holding back her tears, tries to reassure me: “The doctors are optimistic. The surgeon they propose is world-renowned.”

“It will go well,” says Elisha. “I know it, Dad. I am convinced of it.”

I remain silent.

“Shall we go?” urges the attending physician.

The nurses are ready to push the gurney toward the OR. I steal another glance at the woman with whom I have shared my life for more than forty-two years. So many events, so many discoveries and projects, unite us. All we have done in life we have accomplished together. And now, one more experience.

As the door opens, I look one last time at our son, the fine young man who has justified—and continues to justify—my life and who endows it with meaning and a hereafter.

Through the tears that darken the future, a thought awakens a deeper concern, a deeper sorrow: Shall I see them again?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 19 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2012

    A Most Important Voice

    The voice from one of the most moral and important voices of our time.

    12 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 11, 2012

    Exceptional

    Exceptional

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2013

    It's a shame Elie Wiesel has such a blind spot when it comes to

    It's a shame Elie Wiesel has such a blind spot when it comes to Israel's dispossession and oppression of Palestinians. He says Jerusalem is "above politics" which is outrageous whether or not he said it out of naivete, ignorance or deliberate racism

    2 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 18, 2012

    I must buy this book! With my imagination, as I read the excerp

    I must buy this book! With my imagination, as I read the excerpt, his words painted a clear picture.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 11, 2013

    Heart Closed? Read this book and "Open" Yourself to change

    Who among us doesn't need to forgive and be forgiven. Elie Wiesel shows us how with an amazing spirit of generosity and forgiveness. Gratitude for family and everyday life is the true reward of life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2013

    A heart-rending and insight account. In a world where humans are

    A heart-rending and insight account. In a world where humans are losing faith in humanity, Elie Wiesel's account in this book comes as a welcome relief. Not only is it very informative and educative, it is very insightful and well-written as well. Like in Disciples of Fortune, the lesson for humanity here is big.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 1, 2013

    Looking back on his life, facing his own mortality, this amazing

    Looking back on his life, facing his own mortality, this amazing man wonders if he has done enough in his life to honor those who were victims of  one of the most horrific events humankind has ever experienced. This and every book he has written are treasures, honoring & remembering both victims and survivors of the Holocaust. My answer to his wondering whether he has done enough: His life is a dedication to justice; he has left an imprint upon the world that reflects this.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2013

    Incredible, by an incredible human

    I loved this super quick read, about 2 hrs of your life, for such a great book totally worth it

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  • Posted January 12, 2013

    Interesting

    Generally I enjoy his books. This was just OK. I guess because I was an ICU RN and worked with open heart surgery, I did not find the story as compelling as others might.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2013

    Fair

    i found this book to be only fair. I would have found his life before the heart problem much more interesting than after.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2012

    Kiki and charlie

    Hi this a book about monkeys save a polar bear

    0 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2012

    Cloud

    Sowwy...i had to do some chores

    0 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2012

    Jessica

    Hello?

    0 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2012

    Who cares?

    Who cares?

    0 out of 41 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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