Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review: Hostage (Audio)

Summary: From Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and author of Night, a charged, deeply moving novel about the legacy of the Holocaust in today’s troubled world and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It’s 1975, and Shaltiel Feigenberg—professional storyteller, writer and beloved husband—has been taken hostage: abducted from his home in Brooklyn, blindfolded and tied to a chair in a dark basement. His captors, an Arab and an Italian, don’t explain why the innocent Shaltiel has been chosen, just that his life will be bartered for the freedom of three Palestinian prisoners. As his days of waiting commence, Shaltiel resorts to what he does best, telling stories—to himself and to the men who hold his fate in their hands.

With beauty and sensitivity, Wiesel builds the world of Shaltiel’s memories, haunted by the Holocaust and a Europe in the midst of radical change. A Communist brother, a childhood spent hiding from the Nazis in a cellar, the kindness of liberating Russian soldiers, the unrest of the 1960s—these are the stories that unfold in Shaltiel’s captivity, as the outside world breathlessly follows his disappearance and the police move toward a final confrontation with his captors.

Impassioned, provocative and insistently humane, Hostage is both a masterly thriller and a profoundly wise meditation on the power of memory to connect us to the past and our shared need for resolution. -- Random House Audio

Like many of you, I read and loved NIGHT by Elie Wiesel when it was all the rage -- I think Oprah recommended it or something like that. In all honesty, I was blown away by his story about the Holocaust as well as his ability to write such a thought-provoking book. So when I heard that Mr. Wiesel had a new novel out called HOSTAGE, I thought it sounded appealing. And I was hoping that it would generate some of those same reactions in me that NIGHT did.

HOSTAGE takes place in 1975 and tells the story of Shaltiel Feigenberg, a professional writer and storyteller, who is kidnapped from his home in Brooklyn. He is taken to an unknown location, and once there he is tied up and blindfolded by this two captors -- an Italian and an Arab. He has no idea why he was taken and his captors provide little clues. All he knows is that they are using him to barter for the freedom of three Palestinian prisoners. As Shaltiel fears for his life, he reflects back on his life and remembers stories from his past. He even shares some of these stories with his captors.

I hesitate to use the word enjoy to describe a book like HOSTAGE because I don't think I actually did enjoy it -- but I did appreciate it. Much of the book was uncomfortable for me to read, and (I hate to say this!) I don't know that I am enough of an intellectual to understand the finer points of the story. There were definitely parts of this novel that I found interesting and a few of Shaltiel's memories even resonated with me; however, I'm afraid that I missed out on many of the deeper messages of the story.

Part of the reason why I might have felt a little confused by some of the stories is that I am not Jewish. I don't think you necessarily have to be Jewish to appreciate this novel, but I do think it would have helped me to connect more with the characters. While I was aware of many of the historical aspects of the story, I don't share the personal connection with Shaltiel and his ancestors; and therefore, I feel as if I only touched the surface of understanding the plight of the Jewish people and the tensions in the Middle East.

Having said that, I did find many of Shaltiel's stories to be extremely interesting. I especially liked the ones about his childhood and growing up in Eastern Europe during the rise of the Nazis. Furthermore, I liked how Shaltiel shared the story of how he was saved from the Nazis as well as the aftermath of the war. I will admit, though, that the stories about Shaltiel's communist brother didn't provide the same appeal for me; and I found myself fading in and out of the stories.

While much of HOSTAGE is made up of memories and remembrances from Shaltiel's past, the book also is a suspense novel of sorts. The book describes Shaltiel's kidnapping as well as his imprisonment; and it even tracks the authorities' efforts to save him. I won't go so far as to say that HOSTAGE will appeal to fans of thrillers and suspense novels, but I will say that these scenes were a nice pace change from all of the stories about the past.

What I think I liked the most about HOSTAGE was how incredibly smart the novel was. Shaltiel was a natural storyteller, but he also provided a great deal of insights into human nature. I appreciated how Shaltiel made some wise remarks about his captors (and other captors of the past) as well as how he was able to use his memories to tie his past to his current situation. I actually listened to this novel and I found myself hearing quotations that were so profound that I wished I could go back and listen to them again -- not really possible when you are listening to a book while running.

I thought the audio of HOSTAGE, read by Mark Bramhall, was very well done. I appreciated Mr. Bramhall's variety of accents, and I thought he did a fantastic job of changing his tone and voice for the memory scenes. While I did enjoy listening to this novel, I'm not entirely sure I didn't need a physical copy as well for certain parts. I know I would have enjoyed going back and re-reading a few of Shaltiel's insights to truly try to understand them on multiple levels.

Overall, I am glad that I read (or should I say listened to?) HOSTAGE. While it wasn't always easy to process, it was a book that taught me many things, and more importantly, made me think.

Thanks to the publisher for providing this audio book for review.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

It doesn't sound realistic to me that his captors would sit around listening to his stories!

Beth F said...

I'm wondering if this might have been better in print.

Serena said...

This is a book that has not made my radar until now! I agree with Jill that it doesn't seem realistic that his captors would listen to his stories as he tells them. However, I'd like to give this a try at some point.

bermudaonion said...

I wonder if I'd be smart enough for this book and I really wonder about Mark Bramhall as the narrator. I loved him when he read A Land More Kind Than Home but that book had a very different feel to it.