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The Judges by Elie Wiesel


Rating: (Read only if your interest is strong)


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If you’re looking for a novel that explores the meaning of life through an unusual lens, perhaps The Judges, the latest by Elie Wiesel, will be right for you. After a plane en route from New York to Tel Aviv experiences foul weather and makes an emergency landing in remote Connecticut, passengers are transported for the night, to local homes since no commercial facilities were nearby, and a snowstorm was raging. Five strangers find themselves inside the remote house of a madman who forces them to confront the meaning of their lives. In a twist on The Weakest Link or Survivor, the Judge informs them that someone will die by morning. To add to the melodrama, the Judge is assisted by a character called the Hunchback.

Here’s an excerpt of what to expect:

“ ‘Are you feeling better?’ asked the Judge, his voice neutral but slightly tinged with irony. ‘No complaints?’
His guests seemed to be relishing their tea. George swallowed his in rapid mouthfuls; Bruce sipped. Yoav was waiting for it to cool. Claudia stroked her mug almost sensually. The Hunchback observed her with a pounding heart. Razziel too was watching her.
 ‘I now have the following point of order to announce to you,’ said the Judge in official tones.
What new scheme is he going to dream up for tonight? the Hunchback wondered. I know quite a few of his routines, yet each time he surprises me. I shall end up believing the only thing that interest him is shocking me – me, his servant.
 ‘We shall now move on to secrets,’ declared the Judge.
Ah good, thought the Hunchback, I might have guessed. The Judge loves secrets. His own life is full of them; his own, mine (which he says he reads in my eyes), those of everyone who passes through his house. He is nourished by them the way his heart is nourished by the blood that runs in his veins. Reassured, the Hunchback made his way into the adjoining room, where he could observe the prisoners thanks to a cleverly concealed camera.
 ‘Yes, you heard what I said,’ the Judge continued. ‘Secrets. I want each of you to recount to me an episode that marked a turning point in your existence. If you are embarrassed to do this in front of the others, write it down. But I warn you: All cheating and all concealment will be severely punished.’”

Given that excerpt, and its like throughout the book, it’s reassuring that the book is only 200 pages long. I found the writing somewhat obtuse, and the dialogue forced. By the end of the book, I had no surprise at the outcome, and little empathy for any of the characters. This is not Wiesel at his best. Go ahead and pick up The Judges only if you really like Wiesel or of you enjoy moral questioning.

Steve Hopkins, September 18, 2002


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the November 2002 issue of Executive Times


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