The Son­der­berg Case

Elie Wiesel; Cather­ine Temer­son, trans.
  • Review
By – September 26, 2011

Elie Wiesel, known for his books root­ed in the Holo­caust, has pro­duced a sto­ry prob­ing the post-war gen­er­a­tions’ ties to this dark peri­od. Enter Yedidyah Wasser­man, a child of sur­vivors, who grows up to be a the­atre crit­ic for a New York City news­pa­per with a world­view inspired by his father and grandfather’s philo­soph­i­cal bent. Yedidyah becomes pre­oc­cu­pied ear­ly in his career with the tri­al of a young Ger­man stu­dent accused of killing his uncle. It res­onates with the ill-defined despon­den­cy close to melan­choly” he has car­ried with­in since ear­ly child­hood and dri­ves him to uncov­er his real fam­i­ly legacy. 

The Ger­man defen­dant, who pleads guilty and not guilty,” seeks out Yedidyah years lat­er to tell him the truth behind the death, a shock­ing­ly dif­fer­ent and more poignant out­come than Yedidyah had imagined. 

The ambigu­ous court­room plea is the foun­da­tion of Wiesel’s the­sis — that the gen­er­a­tions born after the war are deeply ambiva­lent about the crimes of their ances­tors and the fates of their families. 

Yedidyah, the con­stant­ly rumi­nat­ing pro­tag­o­nist, asks many ques­tions but comes up short on answers. This nov­el, which tog­gles between first and third per­son per­spec­tives, the past and the present, is writ­ten sparse­ly but seems scat­tered at times.

Discussion Questions