Raphael Lipkin is a man obsessed. He hears voices. He talks to ghosts. He is spending the summer at the Mountain Clinic, a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York--not as a patient, but as a visiting professional with a secret, personal quest.A professor of literature and a Holocaust survivor, Raphael, having rebuilt his life since the war, sees it on the verge of coming apart once more. He longs to talk to Pedro, the man who rescued him as a fifteen-year-old orphan from postwar Poland and brought him to Paris, becoming his friend, mentor, hero, and savior. But Pedro disappeared inside the prisons of Stalin's Russia shortly after the war. Where is Pedro now, and how can Raphael discern what is true and what is false without him?
ELIE WIESEL was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. The author of more than fifty internationally acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction, he was Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and University Professor at Boston University for forty years. Wiesel died in 2016.
New York, New York
Date of Birth:
September 30, 1928
Place of Birth:
Read an Excerpt
I am going mad, Pedro. I feel it. I know it. I have plunged into madness as into the sea. And I am about to sink to its depths. Infinity cannot be challenged with impunity, and madness is infinite down to its fragments. As is death. As is death. As is God. Cry for help? Here, everybody cries for help. Our voices drown, resurface, merge, and dissolve while on the outside life goes on. What am I to do, Pedro? To whom shall I turn for a little light, a little warmth? Madness is lying in wait for me and I am alone. ***
As a boy, Raphael feared madness but was drawn to madmen. In his hometown, deep in the Carpathian Mountains, there was an asylum. That was where he spent his Shabbat afternoons. Each week he would arrive bearing fruit and sweets. And each week he would find himself looking for a certain old man, an old man with veiled eyes. Raphael remembered that on his very first visit the old man had smiled at him gently, and that he had been inexplicably moved.
“What is your name?” the old man asked as the boy was leaving.
“Raphael, Raphael Lipkin,” he had answered timidly.
“Will you come see me again, Raphael?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll come again.”
“Thank you, my boy, You deserve a blessing. Would you like me to bless you?”
“Yes, sir, I would.”
But the old man had retreated into his dreams. Emerging briefly he said, “Next time.”
“Will you still be here?”
“Oh yes.” The old man’s voice was sad, ironic. “I’ll be here even when I’m no longer here.”
Raphael did not understand. But how could he? The old man was mad, and madmen put little store in being understood. Madmen can say anything without, do or undo anything, without ever having to explain. Madmen are free, totally free. Perhaps that’s why Raphael found the old man appealing.
“Be careful,” warned a young doctor. “This man is dangerous.”
“But Doctor, he seems so gently.”
“That’s why he’s dangerous.”
Raphael refused to believe him. Still, he must have believed him a little, enough for the patient to notice. The following Shabbat the old man greeted him, a mischievous look on his still-handsome face.
“So, that’s how it is. You’re hiding things from me.”
“Oh, no, sir. I’m not hiding anything.”
“Yes, you are! I know it! They warned you against me.”
“Nobody . . .”
“Hush, my boy. You must never lie to a madman. We see right through you.”
“I won’t lie to you ever again.”
“Good. Now let’s examine the situation: They told you I’m dangerous . . . right?”
“That’s what they said. But . . .”
“But you don’t believe it? Well, you’d better believe it. I order you to. For your own good. Madmen can be dangerous, and I more than the others: I see farther, higher than any of them. They are dangerous when they’re present. I am dangerous even when I’m absent. That’s why I can go on protecting you even after I’m gone. Of course, to be protected by madness can also be dangerous.”
“I don’t understand,” said Raphael.
“Come, my boy. Let’s get some air,”
The old man led Raphael to a secluded bench at the outer edge of the garden.
“Who sent you?” asked the old man.
“My . . . my parents.”
“And who sent them?”
“I don’t know, sir,”
For a moment, the old man lost his patience: “You don’t know, you don’t know. . . . One day you will have to know. . . . Fortunately, that day I’ll be there to guide you.”
“Guide me?” wondered Raphael. “Where?”
“Toward knowledge, my boy. Toward knowledge.”
Then, for no apparent reason, he began to laugh.
“You will follow me, won’t you?”
“Yes,” Raphael heard himself say. “I will follow you.”
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