Translated from the French, HOSTAGE displays the skill that garnered Elie Wiesel the Nobel Prize. Wiesel has written many works about the Holocaust, the relationships changed by those events, and the plight of acceptance for Jews on the world stage. HOSTAGE takes place in 1975 in New York; Shaltiel Geigenberg is a Jew and a professional storyteller, a common man of no importance. He is married and childless, and ekes out his livelihood relating stories to enthralled audiences; but his gift is only appreciated locally. Then suddenly, he is taken from near his Brooklyn home, blindfolded, dragged by two abductors to a damp, dark basement prison, and held for ransom.
"This powerful novel relates terrorism to the horrific acts of the Holocaust. While not for the faint of heart, HOSTAGE is an engaging read."
Wiesel tells Shaltiel’s story through the hostage’s memories. Shaltiel, at first, wonders the “whys” of his being taken. Surely his captors must have mistaken him for someone else, a more prominent Jew, with political connections. The two men who hold him captive share a common ideology: they despise Israel. Their ransom demand is the release of three Palestinian prisoners held by the Israelis. They bully him to reveal the names of influential Jewish friends who might come to his aid. But Shaltiel has no important friends. When he questions his captors, he receives no answers --- only blows, curses and the blindfold. Outside, he hears street sounds, children and cars. He tells his nerves to be calm, for tomorrow life will be beautiful.
To maintain his sanity, he recalls his childhood and conjures up memories of his father’s devotion to Jewish scripture and religious practices. His father taught him that the most important quality in life is the ability to listen to others; only then will understanding come. Labor had taken his father, Haskel, away from his family during the week, and Shalti had felt lonely and forsaken. But when Shalti demonstrated his knowledge of the Talmud and religious texts, he rose in stature. Shalti relives his and his family’s painful histories through his stories. He grew up in Davarowsk, in a Jewish neighborhood. When the town was occupied by the Hungarian Army, anti-Semitic brutality erupted. Broken promises and destroyed families form the fabric of the stories that Shalti remembers.
Now, these memories sustain him, but questions remain. His present world has “shrunk to the size of a basement.” He vows to retain every detail of his imprisonment once he is released. Repeating prayers and thoughts of his family keeps him sane, but vocalizing his past in story form reveals his soul.
Wiesel entertains us with this literary thriller. Through the narrator’s eyes, the reader views his Holocaust nightmares, his inability to open his heart even to his wife, and his ultimate need to rebuild his own shattered personality. While he questions the “whys” of his captivity, he learns to construct a new understanding of his life, its meaning, and the challenges he may face if he is released. This powerful novel relates terrorism to the horrific acts of the Holocaust. While not for the faint of heart, HOSTAGE is an engaging read.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on October 5, 2012