I have the utmost respect and admiration for Elie Wiesel. I do. And I’m embarrassed to say that up until now, I’ve never read any of his books. Not even Night.
(Although, my embarrassment on not reading Night is probably not as great as the embarrassment of a certain former college president of my alma mater who, upon introducing Mr. Wiesel as a keynote speaker during an event, REFERRED TO WIESEL’S BOOK NIGHT AS A WORK OF FICTION! I kid you not. Mr. Wiesel himself kindly but firmly set this dingbat straight.)
I digress. But that is an unbelievable story, is it not? I mean, can you imagine? I’m not much of a fan of this woman, truth be told.
Anyway, so I had high expectations going into The Sonderberg Case. This short novel is the story of Yedidyah Wasserman, a drama critic living in New York City with his actress wife and two sons. Because of his theatrical background, Yedidyah is assigned by the newspaper for which to cover the trial of one Werner Sonderberg, who is accused of killing his (Werner’s) uncle. Werner pleads “guilty and not guilty,” setting in motion a series of courtroom scenarios captured by Yedidyah, to much acclaim.
(I was picturing Yedidyah as somewhat of a Dominick Dunne, man-about-town type of character.)
For the first part of the novel, there are passages of writing that were fluid and poetic, almost causing me to slow down and take in the prose. But then it seemed as if the plot became too heavy for what is a less than 200 page novel. In that span, Wiesel gives his reader the Sonderberg trial and the effect it has on Yedidyah personally, as well as on his marriage. He presents some unspoken business of Yedidyah’s family history, their experiences and fate during the Holocaust, and the dynamics between Werner and the uncle. There’s also the mention of something medically wrong with Yedidyah, which I’m thinking is cancer but we never quite figure out.
It’s all a little hard to keep straight. (Oh, and through all of this, the narration changes (often) from first to third person, and back again.) It makes for a choppy story. Perhaps this is because the novel was translated from the French. (If so, this is the second translation from the French I’ve had difficulty with – the first being The Elegance of the Hedgehog.)
(Cringes and shudders at the memory of that particular book.)
I wanted to like this one more than I did, but The Sonderberg Case failed to win my favor. However, it won’t deter me from giving Wiesel another chance by reading more of his work – fiction AND nonfiction – in the future.