Once again, in The Town Beyond the Wall, Elie Wiesel has brought us a novel in which he infuses pieces of himself within the pages, through the narrator, named Michael.
Michael is a Jew, and he is a survivor of the Holocaust. He is haunted by the past, by memories that he tries to hold on to. He is in constant search for validation and the meaning of life.
As Michael tries to come to terms with the events of his past, his present, and his possible future, his life takes on a different dimension within the confines of a prison in Szerencsevaros, Hungary. He was born in a concentration camp, before liberation, and returns to his birthplace years later.
Elie Wiesel wrote another book regarding a man who returned to his birthplace, and I remember that he stated something along the lines that everything was the same as far as the street, etc., except there were no more Jews living there any longer…
Michael’s story is told through many flashbacks that he has while being tortured in jail, as he is forced to pray standing up and facing the wall. The desired result from his those who captured him would be for him to feel such extreme physical pain, so much so, that it would cause him to speak. His flashbacks are his way of disassociating himself from the pain. It gives him something to focus on, in order not to confess about his friend Pedro. He wants to save Pedro, and will stay strong in order to do so.
Michael is disillusioned about G-d, about religion, about life in general. He is constantly disturbed and afflicted by memories of his childhood. He is a man in dire emotional straits. He regrets some of the choices he has taken, and regrets some of the actions he chose not to take.
Was Michael able to weather yet another ordeal of suffering, after the suffering he went through during the Holocaust? Read The Town Beyond the Wall and find out. Is self-inflicted suffering a form of survival for some? Do the questions we seek answers to always have answers? Are pain and suffering necessities in life? Could you endure these situations and retain your ability to be nonjudgemental? These and more questions come to mind while reading The Town Beyond the Wall. Wiesel is masterful in stimulating our emotions and thought processes. He always gives us much to ponder, and brings us sobering and serious issues to reflect upon.
Wiesel is ever searching inward, outward, ever filled with the silence of those who stood and watched while Jews were deported, and/or went to their deaths. The suffering is endless, and imprints of lives are left on the soul of the protagonist, as he reflects back in time in order to save a friend in the present.
Michael’s pain is consuming, hard to let go of, harsh and intense. Yet it is not the pain of a martyr, but of an individual who is trying to focus on the past in order to get through the adverse situation he finds himself in. In order for Michael’s friend to survive, Michael had to suffer. And, suffer he did, giving him a reason to survive, to weather the horrendous storm.
The Town Beyond the Wall is a study in suffering, and returning to the place where the suffering began. It is where it continues to keep its hold on you, due to many factors, both real and imagined. The novel lets the reader know that you can’t always return to where your life began, to where you spent the first youthful formative years of your life, and not feel some form of pain or suffering. To do so would be to blot out those who came before you.
Elie Wiesel implies that suffering is man’s worst nightmare, where cowardice and courage can’t blend together with a firm or true resolution. It is either one or the other, but not both.