All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs

Jim Paul reviews Elie Wiesel's autobiography "All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs".

Published December 16, 1995 8:00PM (EST)

In the late fifties, Elie Wiesel took a voyage to Brazil. By then his starving student days were behind him, and he had begun to have some success as a journalist in Paris. In fact, he was traveling on assignment to write about a group of Jews, unhappy with life in Israel, who had taken the Catholic Church's offer of free transatlantic passage plus two hundred dollars in return for a promise to convert.

Wiesel himself was fresh from a romantic triumph. A woman named Hanna, a teasing beauty whom he had adored for years, unexpectedly asked him to marry her. Wrestling nonetheless with his decision, he got on the boat. Then, at sea, Wiesel locked himself in his cabin and began to write, "feverishly, breathlessly, without rereading," composing an account of his concentration camp years.

It had been more than a decade since the Nazis rode into the Hungarian shtetl of Sighet, since Wiesel's family went in a sealed cattle car to Auschwitz, since he emerged, only sixteen and among the walking dead. In the intervening years, he and his surviving sisters hadn't talked about it at all. Then on this voyage, when his new life had undeniably taken hold, came this torrent, this testimony. The account would become "Night," Weisel's first book.

In this memoir, Wiesel recalls events spanning from his own birth to Israel's 1967 war. After his voyage to Brazil, he wrote many more books and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of Soviet Jews. But no event in "All Rivers Run to the Sea" was of more moment for Wiesel as a writer than this one, the instant in which the personal expressed the epochal, in which Wiesel began to reclaim his past and so could proceed.

By Jim Paul

Jim Paul is a writer who lives in the Mission District of San Francisco. His books include "Catapult" and "Medieval in L.A."


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Books Memoirs Middle East