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Hostage
Cover of Hostage
Hostage
A novel
From Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and author of Night, a charged, deeply moving novel about the legacy of the Holocaust in today’s troubled world and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
            It’s 1975, and Shaltiel Feigenberg—professional storyteller, writer and beloved husband—has been taken hostage: abducted from his home in Brooklyn, blindfolded and tied to a chair in a dark basement. His captors, an Arab and an Italian, don’t explain why the innocent Shaltiel has been chosen, just that his life will be bartered for the freedom of three Palestinian prisoners. As his days of waiting commence, Shaltiel resorts to what he does best, telling stories—to himself and to the men who hold his fate in their hands.
            With beauty and sensitivity, Wiesel builds the world of Shaltiel’s memories, haunted by the Holocaust and a Europe in the midst of radical change. A Communist brother, a childhood spent hiding from the Nazis in a cellar, the kindness of liberating Russian soldiers, the unrest of the 1960s—these are the stories that unfold in Shaltiel’s captivity, as the outside world breathlessly follows his disappearance and the police move toward a final confrontation with his captors.
            Impassioned, provocative and insistently humane, Hostage is both a masterly thriller and a profoundly wise meditation on the power of memory to connect us to the past and our shared need for resolution.
From Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and author of Night, a charged, deeply moving novel about the legacy of the Holocaust in today’s troubled world and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
            It’s 1975, and Shaltiel Feigenberg—professional storyteller, writer and beloved husband—has been taken hostage: abducted from his home in Brooklyn, blindfolded and tied to a chair in a dark basement. His captors, an Arab and an Italian, don’t explain why the innocent Shaltiel has been chosen, just that his life will be bartered for the freedom of three Palestinian prisoners. As his days of waiting commence, Shaltiel resorts to what he does best, telling stories—to himself and to the men who hold his fate in their hands.
            With beauty and sensitivity, Wiesel builds the world of Shaltiel’s memories, haunted by the Holocaust and a Europe in the midst of radical change. A Communist brother, a childhood spent hiding from the Nazis in a cellar, the kindness of liberating Russian soldiers, the unrest of the 1960s—these are the stories that unfold in Shaltiel’s captivity, as the outside world breathlessly follows his disappearance and the police move toward a final confrontation with his captors.
            Impassioned, provocative and insistently humane, Hostage is both a masterly thriller and a profoundly wise meditation on the power of memory to connect us to the past and our shared need for resolution.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter 1

    "Someone is missing," Shaltiel murmurs, his head slightly tilted. No one has heard him.

    Around the table, in the dining room, the guests are telling each other stories both related and unrelated to the circumstances uniting them that evening. The atmosphere is warm and joyous. How could it not be? ­Didn't they come to celebrate the life of a man and the freedom of men?

    Policemen and intelligence agents, Americans and Israelis, friends and members of Shaltiel's family, they all feel they are entitled to it, to this privilege. They all suffered along with him, from close or from far away, often in secret; they all shared his anguish, or at least they were aware of it and it had left its mark.

    "Le-­Hayim," says a big, bespectacled man with delicate hands as he raises his glass: "To life." And they all join in. Yes, to life. To the right to life. Everyone's right. To the joy of being with someone who was going to lose his life for unacceptable, absurd reasons.

    Shaltiel runs his eyes over his friends, new and old. He is grateful to them all.

    But someone is missing.



    That's the way it is and I can't do anything about it.

    Though I was surely born in joy, I have always lived in anguish.

    In the basement, his thoughts catapult him into the past. So is this what a man's life is all about? Moving from one shelter to another, both opening out on brutality, remorse and nothingness?

    It's only a dream, Shaltiel says to himself. An idiotic, senseless dream. As all dreams are. Inevitable and useless. Sometimes, we dream because we are anxious, and because we don't understand.

    I am walking in the mountains. In the midst of a crowd. I am moving forward with slow steps. I don't know anyone. I have no idea why a strange instinct urges me to flee. Could the enemy be everywhere? I ask one person, then another: "What are we doing here?" A bearded old man replies: "It's you I'm looking for." He vanishes. A sad, ­dark-­haired young woman replies: "It's you who are waiting for me." She vanishes too. A man with a gentle face says: "It's you." They all assert: "It's you." Behind ­them--­it's ­odd--­a stranger with an intense gaze nods his head and flashes a knowing wink at me; I know he's dead, but he's walking with the others. And he says nothing. Suddenly my heart starts pounding madly: They've all vanished, except the dead person, and that's me. I'm alone. And the mountains narrow in on me; they become me. And in my dream, I say to myself: It's a dream. Is it mine? Not theirs? How am I to know?

    Oh, to unravel the fabrics of dreams and fantasies that inhabit the prisoner, to disentangle the time and duration that engross philosophers, the conscience of the ascetic and the intuition of psychologists, the fire and anathema of moralists so they won't turn into illusions and lies. Tell me, how is it done?

    He is afraid: If he shuts his eyes, he plunges back into an unreal universe with people alive or dead. When he reopens them, the fear has not left him.

    He remembers the ­pitch-­black darkness, with red glimmers bearing misfortune, the sadness vying with astonishment; and, in the dream, his eyes fill with tears.

    Who will speak of the role of fear in the torment experienced by the hostage who, on the level of fate or the gods, exists only for his executioners?

    This tragedy, the very first of its kind, took place in 1975. It caused a considerable stir in the media at the time, in Jewish communities and in ­so-­called diplomatic circles.

    Shaltiel Feigenberg, a discreet man with no status or fortune, became famous all over the...

About the Author-
  • Elie Wiesel is the author of more than fifty books, both fiction and nonfiction. He is a recipient of the United States Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the French Legion of Honor's Grand-Croix, 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.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 21, 2012
    A provocative “what-if” premise propels Nobel laureate Wiesel’s (Night) latest novel. In 1975, an Orthodox Jewish man, Shaltiel Feigenberg, is kidnapped from a Brooklyn street and held hostage by two terrorists, an Arab and an Italian, who demand the release of Palestinians and threaten death if their demands aren’t met. Shaltiel, a kindly storyteller, ruminates on the blessings of Judaism and recalls the words of Jewish prophets, philosophers, and mystics with nostalgia. He also remembers the moral ambiguity of being hidden in his native Galicia by a Nazi officer while his family labored in Auschwitz. Wiesel deplores ideologies that mislead and betray, including the communism that lured Shaltiel’s brother in the 1930s. As Shaltiel’s Arab captor spews hatred and his Italian captor speaks for international terrorism, Shaltiel claims that the excesses of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians are unavoidable safety measures. While the clock ticks closer to the deadline, Wiesel’s narrative skills fail to create tension, and Shaltiel’s rescue is perfunctory. Instead of a literary thriller, we get a didactic defense of the Jewish state and its timeless vulnerability. Agent: Georges Borchardt.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from June 15, 2012
    Wiesel takes us on a journey through dream, memory and especially storytelling in his latest novel, which concerns Shaltiel Feigenberg, who in 1975 is captured and imprisoned for 80 hours in a basement by two captors. Feigenberg is politically unimportant and practically unknown before his capture, but soon thereafter he becomes front-page news, though his plight is reported in wildly different ways by the world press. His captors represent divergent political realities. One, Luigi, is an Italian political revolutionary with no particular animus against Jews, while the second, Ahmed, is a passionate advocate for Palestine with an intense hatred for the "Zionist cause." Perhaps predictably, a "bad cop-good cop" dynamic develops as they tend to Feigenberg, Luigi gradually freeing him from restraints while Ahmed rails with fanatic fervor against all that Feigenberg represents to him. Luigi and Ahmed are motivated by "humanitarian" concerns--they demand that three Palestinian prisoners be freed in exchange for Feigenberg's freedom--rather than materialistic ones. Feigenberg is mystified by his captivity, for he's simply a professional storyteller with a special fondness for spinning his tales to children and the elderly. This forced period of darkness ironically provides him with an extended period of enlightenment, as he has time to reflect on his life--the death of his grandmother at Auschwitz, his frequently absent but observant father, his initial meeting with Blanca (the woman who eventually becomes his wife), and the growing Communist sympathies of his older brother. He begins to frame the narrative of his life in much the same way he frames the stories he makes up to entertain others. Even the Israeli government--a government that notoriously does not negotiate with terrorists--gets involved in trying to track down the elusive captive. Nobel Peace Prize winner Wiesel continues to remind us of the brilliant possibilities of the philosophical and political novel.

    COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2012

    Captured by an Arab and an Italian and tied to a chair in a Brooklyn basement, Shaltiel Feigenberg has been chosen to be exchanged for three Palestinian prisoners. To keep down his terror, he tells stories to himself and his jailers, recalling a childhood spent hiding from the Nazis (it's now 1975), liberation by the Soviets, Sixties unrest, and more. Nobel Peace Prize winner and novelist Wiesel continues exploring the Holocaust's continuing ramifications.

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    June 1, 2012
    Wiesel combines his Holocaust focus with the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abducted on the streets of Brooklyn in 1975 and imprisoned in a basement room, Jewish writer Shaltiel Feigenberg is held hostage for three Palestinian soldiers, one imprisoned in the U.S., the other two in Israel. His captors send a message to his wife, who tells the police: if the Palestinians are not freed, Shaltiel will be executed. The prisoner's terse first-person, present-tense narrative will hold readers. Deprived of food and sleep, blindfolded, and tied to a chair, he tries to hold on by remembering his favorite stories and traditions and the miraculous history of his father's return from Auschwitz (his mother did not survive). The Arab captor, Ahmed, born in a Palestinian refugee camp, is brutal (his brother is in prison in Israel). The Italian captor, Luigi, is kind and sympathetic and wants to hear the prisoner's family history and the traditional tales of the Wise Fool: Is Luigi playing the good cop ? The stories and ruminations get a little messagey, but with the intense contemporary action, the prisoner's memories also bring close the sweep of Jewish history, including persecution and survival. Yes, he loves the people of Israel, but no, he's never been a threat to the Palestinians. Sure to spark discussion about Middle Eastern history and politics. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Wiesel remains a mainstay in the Holocaust curriculum, a perennial book-group choice, and a recurring one book, one city selection.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2012, American Library Association.)

  • -Starred review, Kirkus

    "Wiesel takes us on a journey through dream, memory, and especially storytelling in Hostage . . . He continues to remind us of the brilliant possibilities of the philosophical and political novel."

  • -Booklist "[Wiesel's] terse first-person, present-tense narrative will hold readers . . . With the intense contemporary action, the prisoner's memories also bring close the sweep of Jewish history, including persecution and survival . . . Sure to spark discussion about Middle Eastern history and politics."
  • David L. Ulin, Chicago Tribune "Wiesel takes us into the heart of the [hostage's] experience: How do we survive in a universe where all logic, all reason, has been stripped away and we are at the mercy of chaotic forces? What is the effect on our humanity?"
  • Library Journal

    "The strength of Hostage is Wiesel's exploration of the psychology of being a hostage, as well as the complex nature of memory and its role in our lives . . . Fans of Wiesel's strong prose who are looking forward to a return to familiar themes will be gratified."
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