The Time of the Uprooted

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Overview

From Elie Wiesel, a profoundly moving novel about the healing power of compassion.

Gamaliel Friedman is only a child when his family flees Czechoslovakia in 1939 for the relative safety of Hungary. For him, it will be the beginning of a life of rootlessness, disguise, and longing. Five years later, in desperation, Gamaliel’s parents entrust him to a young Christian cabaret singer named Ilonka. With his Jewish identity hidden, he survives the war, but in 1956, to escape the ...

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Time of the Uprooted

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Overview

From Elie Wiesel, a profoundly moving novel about the healing power of compassion.

Gamaliel Friedman is only a child when his family flees Czechoslovakia in 1939 for the relative safety of Hungary. For him, it will be the beginning of a life of rootlessness, disguise, and longing. Five years later, in desperation, Gamaliel’s parents entrust him to a young Christian cabaret singer named Ilonka. With his Jewish identity hidden, he survives the war, but in 1956, to escape the stranglehold of communism, he leaves Budapest after painfully parting with Ilonka.

He settles in Vienna, then Paris, and finally, after a failed marriage, in New York, where he works as a ghostwriter, living through the lives of others. Eventually, he falls in with a group of exiles: a Spanish Civil War veteran, a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, a victim of Stalinism, a former Israeli intelligence agent, and a rabbi—a mystic whose belief in the potential for grace in everyday life powerfully counters Gamaliel’s feelings of loss and dispossession. When Gamaliel is asked to help draw out an elderly, disfigured Hungarian woman who is barely able to communicate but who may be his beloved Ilonka, he begins to understand that a real life in the present is possible only if he will reconcile with his past.

Aching, unsentimental, deeply affecting, and thought-provoking, The Time of the Uprooted is the work of a master.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nobel Prize-winner Wiesel (The Judges, Night) considers the cost of exile for a writer and his circle of refugee friends in this meandering yet weighty new novel. Gamaliel Friedman, a Czech Jew, escaped to Hungary as a child during WWII and survived in the care of a Christian cabaret singer named Ilonka. As the book opens in present-day New York, Gamaliel calls on a nameless dying woman who only speaks Hungarian, and his numerous visits to her hospital bed are interspersed with stories of his many loves and losses. Gamaliel's statelessness is in some ways at the root of all his misery: Ilonka's disappearance, his wife's suicide, daughters who despise him and his unhappy career as a ghostwriter. His only consolations are his manuscript the Secret Book, and his small, colorful group of fellow stateless Jews. Wiesel entwines their searing memories and present troubles with Gamaliel's, and the novel's structure sometimes represents the refugee experience: buffeted from one place to the next, never sure of the journey's goal. Though the story ends on an optimistic note, this remains a bleak and unsettling novel, an exploration of the power and mystery of stories, as well as their ultimate failure to change the world. (Sept. 2) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1939, Gamaliel Friedman and his parents flee Czechoslovakia and the Nazi pogroms for the safe haven of Hungary. When the persecutions encroach upon the family in Budapest a few years later, Gamaliel's parents leave him in the care of Ilonka, a young Christian cabaret singer who successfully disguises him and helps him survive the war. Eventually, he leaves Hungary and Ilonka, making his way through Vienna and Paris and ending up in New York. Now in his twilight years, Gamaliel spends his days swapping memories with five men whose experiences closely mirror his own. In a perplexing moment, a doctor seeking help in drawing out an elderly Hungarian woman summons Gamaliel to a local nursing home. Who is this woman? How is she related to Gamaliel? Could it be Ilonka? These events lead Gamaliel to ponder the nature of love and loss, memory and forgetting, despair and hope. His friends act much like Job's companions, offering contradictory explanations for his situation. While Wiesel's later works have seldom possessed the force of his early ones (e.g., The Night Trilogy), his reflections here powerfully capture the ways that we deal with the past and the ways that it imbues our lives with ambivalent feelings about our identities. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/05.]-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
The Time of the Uprooted is perhaps Wiesel’s most satisfying and successful work of fiction in years . . . with his finest talents on full display.”
–Los Angeles Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400041725
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/9/2005
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,081,173
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Elie Wiesel is the author of more than forty books, including his unforgettable international best sellers Night and A Beggar in Jerusalem, winner of the Prix Médicis. He has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States Congressional Gold Medal, and the French Legion of Honor with the rank of Grand Cross. In 1986, he received the Nobel Peace Prize. He is Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and University Professor 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

The Time of the Uprooted

I’m four years old, or maybe five. It’s a Sabbath afternoon. Mother is lying down in the next room. I’d asked her to read to me from the book she had by her side, but she has one of her frequent headaches. So I ask my father to tell me a story, but just then there’s a knock at the door. “Go see who it is,” says my father, reluctantly glancing up from the journal he’s keeping. A stranger is at the door.

“May I come in?” he asks. A big bearded man, broad across the shoulders, with sad eyes—there’s something disturbing about him. His gaze seems heavy with secrets, and glows with a pale and holy fire.

“Who’s there?” my father asks, and I reply, “I don’t know.”

“Call me a wanderer,” the stranger says, “a wandering man who’s worn-out and hungry.”

“Who do you want to see?” I ask, and he says to me, “You.”

“Who is it, a beggar?” my father asks. “Tell him to come in.” No matter what the hour, my father would never deny his home to a stranger seeking a meal or a night’s shelter, and certainly not on the Sabbath.

The stranger comes in at a slow but unhesitating pace. Father stands to greet him and leads him to the kitchen. He shows the stranger where to wash his hands before reciting the usual prayer, offers him a seat, and sets before him a plate of cholent and hallah. But the stranger doesn’t touch it. “You’re not hungry?” my father says.

“Oh yes, I’m hungry, and I’m thirsty, but not for food.”

“Then what is it you want?”

“I want words and I want faces,” says the stranger. “I travel the world looking for people’s stories.” I’m enchanted by the stranger’s voice. It is the voice of a storyteller: It envelops my soul. He continues: “I came here today to put you to the test, to measure your hospitality. And I can tell you that what I’ve seen pleases me.” With that, he gets to his feet and strides to the door.

“Don’t tell me you are the prophet Elijah,” says my father.

“No, I’m no prophet.” The stranger smiles down at me. “I told you, I’m just a wanderer. A crazy wanderer.”

Ever since that encounter, I’ve loved vagabonds with their sacks full of tales of princes who became what they are for love of freedom and solitude. I delight in madmen. I love to see their crazed, melancholy faces and to hear their bewitching voices, which arouse in me forbidden images and desires. Or rather, it’s not the madness itself I love, but those it possesses, those whose souls it claims, as if to show them the limits of their possibilities—and then makes them determined to go further, to push themselves beyond those limits. It’s second nature with me. Some collect paintings; others love horses. Me, I’m attracted to madmen. Some fear them, and so put them away where no one can hear them cry out. I find some madmen entertaining, but others do indeed frighten me, as if they know that a man is just the restless and mysterious shadow of a dream, and that dream may be God’s. I have to confess that I enjoy their company, I want to see through their eyes the world die each night, only to be reborn with dawn, to pursue their thoughts as if they were wild horses, to hear them laugh and make others laugh, to intoxicate myself without wine, and to dream with my eyes open.

Is today Monday? Maybe it’s Tuesday, but no, it’s Thursday. As if it matters. The wanderer can’t seem to wake up, which is unlike him, and so it was with Isaac and Job when they were full of years, as Scripture tells us. In his dream, he has just seen his father. He stands solemnly for a long moment, and then father and son embrace. He awakes with a start, then falls back into heavy, oppressive slumber. No more father. Talk to him, he doesn’t answer. Stretch out a hand, he turns away. With an effort, he opens his eyes. He knows he’s alone, that he should get up, that he has a long and trying day ahead, but he can’t seem to place the day in his exile’s life: Does it belong to his future, to his past? His soul is lost in the fog and is taking him to some terrifying place of the damned. Somewhere an old woman ravaged in body and memory is watching for him, perhaps to punish him for misdeeds long forgotten, for promises carelessly tossed aside. Who is she? A beauty he dreamed of as a boy but could not hold on to? One of his daughters, stricken in her mind and lost in the depths of time? He searches his memory; their dark faces circle around him and seem about to close in and suffocate him. He knows that he is destined for a fateful encounter with a mysterious woman. A turning point? The end of a stage of his life? If so, isn’t it time for some kind of heshbon hanefesh—an accounting of his soul—in which he would review the fires he’s been through and the many lives he’s led?

He shakes himself awake, gets up, goes to the washbasin, and examines his reflection in the mirror. He sees his yellowish gray pallor, his sagging features, his dull gaze. He doesn’t recognize the man staring back at him. All he’s done is to change nightmares.

My name is Gamaliel. Yes, Gamaliel, and I’ll thank you not to ask me why. It’s just another name, right? You’re given a name, you carry it around, and if it’s too much of a burden, you get rid of it. As for you, dear reader, do I ask you how come you’re named William, or Maurice, or Sigmund, or Serge, or Sergei? Yes, Gamaliel isn’t an everyday name, and let me tell you, it has its own story, and it’s not one you hear every day, either. That’s true of everybody, you’ll say—and so what? If they want, they can tell me the story of their lives; I’ll hear them out. Let me add that I’m also named Péter. Péter was my childhood. For you, childhood means playing with a ball, rolling a hoop, pony rides in the park, birthdays and holidays, vacations at the shore or in the mountains. My childhood was in a nightclub. It has a story, too.

I’ll get around to that.

Just bear with me.

...

For now, let’s stick to Gamaliel. Odd kind of name, I know. You don’t see it very often. Sounds Sephardic. So how did I get it? You really want to know? I inherited it. Yes, some people inherit houses, or businesses, stamp collections, bank accounts. I inherited my name. My paternal grandfather left it to me. Did I know him? Of course not; he died before I was born, or else I’d have been given another name. But then how did his parents happen to choose so unusual a name, one that seems better suited to a tired old man than to a newborn baby? Did they find it in the traditions of their Sephardic ancestors, those who were expelled from Spain, or perhaps those who stayed on, the Marranos, who pretended to convert but secretly retained their Jewish identity? You can find the first Gamaliel in the Bible: Gamaliel, son of Phadassur, chief of the tribe of Manasseh; and in the Larousse Encyclopedia, where he is described as “a Jew and a great luminary.” And of course in the Talmud, where he’s frequently quoted. His grandfather was Hillel the Elder. He lived and taught somewhere in Palestine during the first century, well before the destruction of the Second Temple. Yes, I bear the name of a great leader, known for his wisdom and moderation, universally respected in Israel. He was president of the Sanhedrin and of a well-known academy. Nothing was decided without his consent. I would have liked to have known him. Actually, that can be done. All I have to do is look in the records of discussions in which he took part. I’ve been doing that every chance I’ve gotten since I came to America, which by now is quite a while ago. I like to study, and I love to read. I never tire of reading. I have a lot to catch up on.

Besides, you could say it’s what I do for a living.

I write so I can learn to read and read and read.

From the Book of Secrets

The air-raid alarm is silent, making it a quiet night, but even so, the Archbishop of Székesváros has a nightmare. The Archbishop, Monsignor János Báranyi, dreams he is in the Vatican, waiting for an audience with the Pope. Feverishly, he is searching for the first word he’ll speak, the one crucial word that will convince the Pope of his humility and his obedience. He cannot find that word. All he can think of are garbled phrases that might as well be false prayers dictated to him by some evil spirit. What shall I do? Lord in heaven, what shall I do? Without that first word, nothing else he says will matter; the Lord’s Creation will be damned. The Archbishop is in a panic. Time is running out: In a few minutes, the door will open and he will be kneeling before the successor to Saint Peter. The Pope will tell him to rise and speak about his mission, but he, a poor sinner from a distant province, will still be seeking that first word. Help me, Lord, help me! Suddenly, his mother is there holding him by the shoulders. She is long dead. The Archbishop knows that even in his dream—but then what is she doing here, in the Pope’s waiting room? How has she come into his dream? He is about to ask her, when the door opens, opens so softly that it does not disturb a fly perched on its golden doorknob. Now the Archbishop cries out in horror. . . . It’s the Angel of Death, who tells him to come forward. . . .

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2005

    excellent but bleak look at humanity

    In 1939, Germany is cleansing Czechoslovakia of the Jewish problem forcing the Friedmans to flee their home for Hungary. The Nazis soon march into Budapest where they continue to implement the final solution. Hoping to keep their son safe, the Friedmans leave their child Gamaliel with a young Christian cabaret singer Ilonka. She keeps him safe until the war ends. Gamaliel ultimately leaves Hungary and settles in New York. Though residing in America for decades, Gamaliel feels displaced, a man without a country. Family life failed him as his wife committed suicide and his daughters hate him and he lost all contact with Ilonka years ago when she seems to have vanished. Work is unfair as he ghost writes for others to gain accolades. He has five fellow lost souls, who can tell interchangeable survival tales and only having to substitute names because their stories are identical. His only solace is the manuscript he has written Secret Book life is miserable as he feels like a drifting refugee with no place to call home until a doctor asks him to talk with an ailing elderly woman who only speaks Hungarian. --- Nobel Prize winning Elie Wiesel provides a well written but bleak look at the plight of the nation-less displaced people who once removed from their roots never find homes. Gamaliel is terrific as he reflects back on his melancholy life as a symbolism of all the refugees dislocated and relocated at the whims of the powerful and never knowing when if ever to settle in anticipation of the next dislocation. This is a desolate look at humanity even with a somewhat uplifting climax. --- Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2010

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