I have been busy the past couple of days trying to catch up on some reading. Today, I will review the book A Mad Desire to Dance, by Elie Wiesel, translated from the French by Catherine Termerson. I read this a second time for a book club.
Wiesel, with his masterful writing skills, has done it again, with a book that is extremely complex, dealing with the primary theme of “madness”, otherwise termed as insanity, depression, melancholia, mania, schizophrenia, and illness. It is not an easy read, and often seems disjointed. That is due to the fact that Doriel Waldman, the primary character, is suffering from what he defines as “madness”, and is jumping back and forth, from one scenario to another in almost manic fashion, while relaying his story to his psychoanalyst, Dr. Thérèse Goldschmidt. As a side note, the given name Doriel is taken from the Hebrew Dor, which means “generation”. Add that to the surname Waldman, and you have a name that seems to imply that Doriel is a walled-in man, locked in, or out of, childhood memories, and memories of past generations.
“That said, since I’m eager to tell you everything, you should know that I’ll be telling you this story without any concern for chronology. You’ll be made to discover many different periods of time and many different places in a haphazard fashion. What can I say? The madman’s time is not always the same as the so-called normal man’s“.
Waldman is a very scrutinizing and eccentric individual, and relies on philosophy and religion to speak to Goldschmidt. He has lost his parents and siblings, and has been raised in a Jewish Orthodox community, by his uncle. He moves back and forth with his answering of questions, and often plays word games that turn into mind games. He does this in order to get the better hand of the situation, as he perceives it. He is reluctant to release his memories, and is stuck in time, searching evermore for a smile, or a kiss on his forehead. He is very controlling, and must be one up on the psychoanalyst at all times, even though he is paying her to help him.
Goldschmidt is treating him using Freudian principles of analysis. She is also not his first psychoanalyst, having received Waldman as a patient from a previous doctor who felt he couldn’t help him (Waldman). She is Jewish, like Waldman, and the previous doctor feels that this might help Waldman to open up.
I won’t state anything more about the story line, itself, as it would be giving away too much. I will say that Wiesel is brilliant in his assessment of the human mind, and is masterful in his blending of psychology, philosophy, Biblical references, tales and parables, and the Holocaust, within the pages of A Mad Desire to Dance. The story is a dark one, compelling, if the reader takes the time to absorb all the analogies and relative content, not only within the pages, but between the lines. It is often a haunting story, filled with sadness, loss, love, and exaggeration of truth.
Wiesel has infused A Mad Desire to Dance with extraordinary content, with repressed desires and fanaticism, with love and loss, with locked memories that have had a dominant force on Waldman’s life, on his personality and ability to relate to others. The tapestry is woven with brilliance and with a profound sense of history and how it affects not only our mind, but our faith.
Elie Wiesel has written a masterpiece, and one that encapsulates all of the facets of “madness”, from fanaticism in religion and spirituality, to harshness and brutality, to mania and obsessiveness, etc. It is as if the reader is inside the mind of a “madman”, what Doriel defines himself as being. But, is he really? You read this intense book about survival and trauma and decide.
I apologize for the update-there were some complications in my links.