Author: Elie Wiesel
First published: Les Portes de la forêt, 1964 (English translation, 1966)
Locale: Hungarian forests and villages, Paris, and Brooklyn
Plot: Psychological realism
Time: The 1940's and early 1950's
Gregor, whose real name is Gavriel. He is an orphaned seventeen-year-old Hungarian Jew who successfully escaped the Nazis during World War II. Clever and resourceful, and entirely committed to the underground partisan movement in Hungary, Gregor is both a loyal friend and someone who elicits intense love and loyalty in others. He is introspective and philosophical, a young man who has learned to love solitude and night, and not to live “outside his body.” As a result, he develops great resourcefulness in his quest for survival. In each of the four sections of the book, Gregor narrowly escapes capture while many of the people whom he loves and respects are lost. He shares his refuge in a cave with Gavriel; he plays the part of a deaf-mute nephew of the family's old Christian housekeeper, Maria; and he works as a Jewish partisan acting the role of the anti-Semitic Christian lover of Clara, a fellow partisan. Finally, years later, he faces his future as a New York City newspaper writer locked in a less-than-successful marriage with Clara. He acquires strength and self-awareness after a private audience with the Rebbe, the spiritual leader of the Hasidim in Brooklyn, and after a mysterious conversation with Gavriel in the hall of the Hasidim.
Gavriel, the enigmatic Jew who lives with Gregor for several days in a cave in a forest in Hungary. About thirty years old, taller than Gregor, and slightly stooped, Gavriel has no name but accepts the true Jewish name of Gregor after Gregor offers it to him. A man of a thousand voices and a thousand names from another place and time, Gavriel laughs at war and killing. It is he who tells Gregor of the true fate of the Jews and saves the life of his young companion with his own surrender to Hungarian soldiers.
Maria, the Christian housekeeper to Gregor's family before they are killed. The old woman lives alone in a small cottage in a Christian village in Hungary. Wise and strong, she devises the false identity for Gregor of a deaf-mute idiot son of her harlot sister Ileana and is able to give Gregor refuge in her home for a few months.
Lieb the Lion, the courageous Jewish childhood comrade of Gregor. After Gregor leaves Maria's home and goes into hiding in the forest, he surprisingly meets Lieb, who has become the leader of the Jewish underground partisans. Loyal and strong, he helps Gregor in a vain effort to locate Gavriel in a local prison that is in a town that is supposedly Judenrein. In the process, Lieb is captured by Hungarian soldiers. Like Gavriel, he is a victorious human being, able to laugh at his own torture.
Clara, the young lover of Lieb. A beautiful fellow partisan, she joins Lieb and Gregor in their attempt to find Gavriel. With courage and cleverness, she acts the part of the lover of Gregor as they become friendly with Janos, a simpleminded, anti-Semitic guard at the prison. After Lieb's death and a chance meeting with Gregor in Paris after the war, she agrees to marry Gregor even though they both acknowledge that she still loves Lieb. Because of this lack of love, their marriage is never joyful. Despite the ghosts that haunt their lives, they decide to fight the past in what Gregor calls a “bitter, austere, and obstinate battle.”