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Nonfiction Wiesel opens his heart to an unfinished life, full of questions

  • Published Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, at 10:35 p.m.

“Open Heart” by Elie Wiesel (Alfred A. Knopf, 96 pages, $20)

Shema Yisrael

Adoshem Elokeinu

Adoshem e’had.

Hear, O Israel

God is our God

God is one and unique.

With those recited words – a prayer that he has known since childhood – Elie Wiesel, 82, is ready for open heart surgery. “Now I am yours,” he says weakly to the surgeon.

In a quick few pages, Wiesel, author of scores of books, including his signature work, “Night,” a harrowing account of his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps, recounts his brush with death in 2011 on an operating table, and the images and emotions he experienced before and after.

“As it has often before, and now more than ever, the fact that I am who I am leads me to look back: What have I done, and what have I toiled to do, during this long journey filled with dreams and challenges?”

The pocket-size book, with chapters no longer than a couple of pages, draws the reader into his reminiscent journey of mind and heart: his resolute duty to honor Holocaust survivors and victims, including his father, mother and little sister; the joys of his marriage to Marion; his unreserved pride in his son, Elisha, and his two grandchildren, Elijah and Shira; and his struggle to understand the role and will of God as well as his own in a world of death and destruction.

After his surgery, weakened by age and infirmity, Wiesel presses on with his work and his struggle to come to grips with a life unfinished. His open-heart introspection finally leads him to ask: “Have I changed?” His answer is a qualified “yes.” “What is different is that I now know that every moment is a new beginning, every handshake a promise. I know that every quest implicates the other, just as every word can become a prayer.”

Whether you share Wiesel’s Jewish heritage, his book of personal reflections will lead you to think about your life in relationship to those you love and to the larger theological and existential questions that trouble humankind.

Elie Wiesel is unquestionably a challenging guide for such a quest.

Tom Schaefer is a former columnist and religion editor for The Eagle. He lives in Wichita.

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