Like Number the Stars, Elie Wiesel’s Night is a must read. The average person’s education on the Holocaust is incomplete until they read this book. While not a children’s book like Number the Stars, Night‘s protagonist, Wiesel himself, is a child living through the persecutions of the Nazis. This book was on the introductory English syllabi at California State University, Dominguez Hills when I was teaching on the campus. And, having helped guide student through it, I think it’s still a very under appreciated book. Apparently, the book’s length has gotten shorter and shorter due to edits. The original version that Wiesel wrote was over 500 pages. The shorter drafts are easy to read and very accessible to the average reader.
“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
Weisel narrates the events of his life between 1955 and 1945. He is imprisoned with his father and other Jews in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. During his time in the concentration camps, Wiesel describes how the Jews survived. Some gave up their faith and desire to live. Others tried to help those sick or motivate those severely depressed. And, the third group mounted a resistance, a subversive group of Jews that found ways to keep others alive or undermine the Nazis’ work. Much of the narrative, though, involves Wiesel recalling parts of his life, his Jewish teachings, and the negotiation with himself about his faith in humankind. One of the biggest themes of books connected to these historical events is the loss of faith. It is every trauma psychologists and post-modernist theorists’ dream: the death of God. Not to make light of such a morbid thing, but it’s also a literary translator’s dream. The books been published in so many languages including Yiddish, French, English. A literal tongue twister if not a mind-bender. It’s an existentialists’ play pool.
“They are committing the greatest indignity human beings can inflict on one another: telling people who have suffered excruciating pain and loss that their pain and loss were illusions.”
“He explained to me with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer.”
Night is actually part of a trilogy – Night, Dawn, and Day. Whether its 800 pages or 100 pages, Wiesel seems to have imparted onto himself the quest of showing any reader that ventures into his story that even when you reach rock bottom – the darkest, deepest level of jadedness – your memory might still be good enough to write a book and that you are certainly not dead yet. Truthfully, it’s a really sad book. Full of melancholy and utter pain. The anguish that young Wiesel feels is translated through the words. And, if we’re sensitive enough, the reader can almost slip right into that with him. As a trained college educator, I sometimes despair that it might be wasted reading material on a younger pool of students. I wonder if a contemporary film adaptation would revive interest in the novel.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill & Wang, 16 January 2006.
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