Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Night by Elie Wiesel

Serendipitously, I finished this book Tuesday, which was Holocaust Remembrance Day (even though I didn't know it at the time). It seems the most appropriate way to pay homage to those who lost their lives in the Holocaust and to those who survived as well.

Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor himself, has a reputation that is without question one of the most respected in the WWII literary world. He has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the French Legion of Honor, and the Nobel Peace Prize. Although he has published over forty internationally acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction, Night was his first, written a little over ten years after he was liberated from Buchenwald. The first version was published in Yiddish in 1956, and then in English in 1960. In 2006, his wife, who probably best understands Elie's voice and personality, re-translated the version I read.

Elie was born and raised in Transylvania, and as a youth, lived as a devout Jew. When he was fifteen years old, he was herded into a ghetto, then transported with his family to Auschwitz. His mother and younger sister were exterminated there, but Elie and his father were able to stay together until they were moved to Buchenwald, where his father eventually died. While this is an auto-biographical recount of his experience, it about more than the horrors we have come to expect in a book about the Holocaust. It is more about the loss of youth, the loss of faith in God, and questions what one would renounce in order to survive.

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never."

I'm sorry, but if this doesn't put a chill in your bones, nothing will.

This is a very short book - only 120 pages - but took me days to read. I had to put it down often. The prose is direct and factual, and lacks any in-depth character development. Despite this, I'm left with echoes of a young Polish boy who played his beloved violin to his death. Of hundreds of cries and moans of distress from the train cars, "a death rattle of an entire convoy with the end approaching". Of a commandant telling young Elie not to worry about his dying father, that it is "every man for himself" and there is "no such thing as a father, a brother or a friend".

Did I like this book? Yes I did. I can't ditch my Miss Merry Sunshine badge quite yet...this would not be a good place to start with a critical attitude. But neither would I be anxious to re-read it anytime soon. I know this is an overused word, but it is downright haunting. But Wiesel accomplished what he set out to do, and that is to first, bear witness. Second, to "prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory".


ds said...

Yes. Exactly. Thank you.

Literary Feline said...

Wonderful review, Sandy. I had the chance to read this a couple of years ago and it was indeed haunting.

Unknown said...

This book left me speechless and stayed with me!

Unknown said...

This is one of the best books about the holocaust, period. It's stayed with me almost 20 years after reading it.

You really should check out Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Maybe after a few weeks--I think you'd really like it.

Carrie K. said...

Well-said. I agree - it is an important book, but not one I would like to read again anytime soon.

Annette said...

I loved this book. I have read many books on the Holocaust, Night is one of my favorites.

Unknown said...

Great review! I'm afraid I'm going to try to avoid haunting books for a while, as I have enough terrible images of the halocaust in my head already. I just find them too disturbing - even The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - with no graphic words left me with terrible thoughts swimming round in my mind.

I'm off to read some happier things!

Sandy Nawrot said...

ds - thank you!

Wendy - I read on someone's blog that using the word "haunting" was a literary no-no, but how else to say it? It IS haunting!

Shelley - You are right; a short book but so powerful.

James - I think you are right. Of course, I am always talking about "Into That Darkness" as my favorite, but this one comes close. After I've lightened up, I will find this book you've recommended!

Carrie - Right. I know I WILL read it again, because I'm sure I missed things. It is very short, and I think the second time around I'd read it quicker.

Annette - and that is something coming from you, since you've read your share of Holocaust books!

Jackie - these types of books are very dark, but I still love them. I read them for the same reason Wiesel wrote this book.

Beth F said...

This is an incredible book and your review is great. Everyone should read this.

My brother and my mother got to hear Wiesel speak last summer. Wouldn't that be something.

The Bumbles said...

I picked this book up at the airport a few years ago after seeing him on Oprah. I felt ashamed that I had never heard of him or this book. I think it should be required reading in all high schools and is an excellent companion to a visit to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. Now - you might want to curl up in a ball and cry for a few weeks - but the message is vital.

(by the way - I just sent you an e-mail in reply to a comment you left on our blog - just curious if it got through to you? I never know if those messages with a "noreplyblogger" in the e-mail address actually work.)

Sandy Nawrot said...

Beth - I would have loved to have heard him speak. I guess he was on Oprah but I didn't see that either!

Bumbles - You are so very right. It is an important message that everyone needs to hear, pleasant or not. (I did not get your e-mail...not sure why!)

Serena said...

Psst...I gave you an award here:

Darlene said...

This isn't a Merry Sunshine kind of book but it is a good book and it is an important one. I read it a few years back and it has stayed with me since then. That passage is indeed haunting as is the whole book.

Melissa said...

I loved this book so much that I have my copy of it and I went out and bought all three books in the trilogy in one version. I can't wait to read all of them.

Danette Haworth said...

Night sounds like a powerful book. Good review!

Matt said...

I was just waiting someone to review this book, which has been on my list for quite a while. I am not ready to read another book on Holocaust, but this would be up next in that department. :)

Iliana said...

Great review, Sandy. I do want to read this book but I almost hesitate because I just know it's going to be so sad. That's terrible and no excuse right.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Serena - thanks! You rock girl!

Dar - I'm glad that I have so much company in the appreciation of this book. It will stay with me for a long time!

Melissa - what's not to love, right? Let me know how the others are. I'll probably want to read those as well!

Danette - thank you!

Matt - Yeah, you have to spread out the Holocaust book, don't you? But this should be a must for you. You'll be able to finish it over a latte.

Iliana - just wait for the right mood...sounds a little twisted, but there are times I am feeling like I must pay tribute, you know?

Savidge Reads said...

You are always introducing me to books that I would have never heard of like this one so thank you very much Sandy.

Anna said...

I read this one ages ago, but I think it's time for a re-read. Sorry I'm late in getting this posted on the challenge blog. I've posted it here.

Diary of an Eccentric

Sverige said...

This book gives great insight to the great hardships in the holocaust. It also shows the great bond between a father and his son. Even though things were hard and he felt that his father's life was coming to an end Wiesel kept pushing him along until his father had nothing left. The book gave good detail of how Wiesel sturggled to hang on and still believe in his religion even when he feels that he has nothing to thank god for. The end gave great meaning to what the holocaust does to people when Elie says that he looked in the mirror for the first time since the holocause and saw nothing but a corpse.