From the book jacket:
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 rabbia 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.
Comment: For 45 years, since the publication of Night, Elie Wiesel has written more than 40 books that explore the contemporary Jewish consciousness, and how it has been formed by the atrocities of the 1930s and 40s. In Time of the Uprooted he explores the dichotomy of the life of a perpetual exile, who can never be fully whole because his body resides in one place while his spirit remains in another. Set in modern-day New York, this bleak and somewhat disjointed novel revolves around Gamaliel's many visits to see a dying Hungarian woman in hospital, interlaced with stories from his unhappy life - the disappearance of Ilonka, the woman who cared for him during the war and his wife's suicide to name but two. His only comforts are his small circle of fellow Jews who, despite having lived in one place for many decades, still feel rootless; his manuscript; and possibly the dying woman, who might be Ilonka.
Some critics feel that Wiesel's themes of love , loss, faith, politics, survival and, of course, exile, are a little too defuse; but one cannot deny the impact of his body of work as a whole, which speaks for not only the lost generation but those left behind, to which The Time of the Uprooted is a worthy addition, illustrating the lasting emotional impact of the Holocaust.
This review was originally published in September 2005, and has been updated for the January 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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