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Night (Night) Paperback – January 16, 2006
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In Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel's memoir Night, a scholarly, pious teenager is wracked with guilt at having survived the horror of the Holocaust and the genocidal campaign that consumed his family. His memories of the nightmare world of the death camps present him with an intolerable question: how can the God he once so fervently believed in have allowed these monstrous events to occur? There are no easy answers in this harrowing book, which probes life's essential riddles with the lucid anguish only great literature achieves. It marks the crucial first step in Wiesel's lifelong project to bear witness for those who died.
“A slim volume of terrifying power.” ―The New York Times
“Required reading for all of humanity.” ―Oprah
“Wiesel has taken his own anguish and imaginatively metamorphosed it into art.” ―Curt Leviant, Saturday Review
“To the best of my knowledge no one has left behind him so moving a record.” ―Alfred Kazin
“What makes this book so chilling is not the pretense of what happened but a very real description of every thought, fear and the apathetic attitude demonstrated as a response . . . Night, Wiesel's autobiographical masterpiece, is a heartbreaking memoir. Wiesel has taken his painful memories and channeled them into an amazing document which chronicles his most intense emotions every step along the way.” ―Jose Del Real, Anchorage Daily News
“As a human document, Night is almost unbearably painful, and certainly beyond criticism.” ―A. Alvarez, Commentary
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I was told by a friend that it was his all-time favorite piece of non-fiction, and I was also told by a few other people that they loved it.
A quarter of the way through, I thought to myself, "Wow, I can't wait to see what the profound conclusion is. Perhaps he's going to close with the idea that no sin is beyond forgiveness and that he has let go of his anger toward the terrorists in WW2 Europe? Maybe he's going to discuss how the horrors of the Holocaust made his faith in God waver but that he never lost it? Maybe there's going to be some other poignant message?"
Nope. Nothing. Here's 115 pages of sickening misery, with no commentary to put it in perspective. I appreciated his pro-Israel remarks in the Nobel-acceptance speech at the end of the book but this piece of work has been around since 1958, long before he was awarded the prize. Most readers couldn't have finished with the acceptance speech section.
I also found myself doubting the complete authenticity of some of these events. If every single part of Wiesel's account is true, that's fine, but that just makes the writing look worse.
Just over halfway through the story, Elie tells the reader about a day in camp when he was beaten badly by a guard, and a French girl who he had worked next to in the camp comforted him. The entire time he had known her, he was under the mistaken understanding that she could not speak German, and because he could not speak French, they never had a conversation. But, on the day when Elie was beaten, she whispered to him (in perfect German according to him) some words of consolation. Then, abruptly, he tells the reader that many years later, he was sitting in a café in Paris when he saw the same woman walking by, and they spoke. They both remembered each other and acknowledged their time together in the concentration camp. Then, immediately back to the story.
WHAT?!?! Imagine please that you are in the midst of enduring the worst possible torture that you can experience in your life, an everyday existence as a slave, treated like an animal because of your ethnicity or religious beliefs. You befriend someone in this circumstance, which would create a bond almost impossible to replicate in any other scenario between two people. Of course, once you're separated, especially in that time period, there's virtually no way to find each other again or to reunite. So... despite that, you are befallen with the terrific and miraculous fate of just happening to pass by each other years later in a city as gargantuan as Paris. Can you even fathom the gravity, the emotion, the significance, the disbelief, the VICTORY of that moment? Could you have written more than a paragraph about it clumsily spliced into a story about human suffering with the emotion of an inanimate object?
Moments like that happen once in a lifetime (if even that frequently) and I find it curious that a man who is clearly a natural born writer would dispense it like it's a near meaningless paragraph or an editorial formality.
I still am experiencing some confusion over why "Night" is so acclaimed. Please don't get me wrong, if you loved the book, I have no problem with that. It probably speaks to a lot of people in a way it can't speak to me. After all, I am a White American Christian male born in the 80s, part of a generation that has experienced virtually no oppression or hardship (by the world's standards) and has simultaneously been severely desensitized to violence and human suffering thanks to modern entertainment.
Still, I see that it was part of "Oprah's Book Club". I see that Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize for the book. I can't figure out why someone would want to recommend the book to other people, or how it contributes to "peace" on a world scale. If Wiesel's intent was to simply chronicle the horrors of the holocaust by opening first-hand wounds that other survivors simply could not bring themselves to do, then the book was supposed to be a pure documentary about the holocaust. But this book is not about the holocaust, it's about Wiesel. It reads like a personal story.
A story, fictional or not, has to have a purpose, a goal in mind, an intended effect on the reader. "Night" has no conclusion. It reminds me of the scene in "Adaptation" when Robert McKee tells Charlie Kaufman "Wow them in the end, and you've got a story. Give them an ending."
Tell us about your victory Elie.
I was extraordinarily dismayed to read your advertisement in the New York Times today (August 4, 2014) – the one in which you accuse Hamas of “child sacrifice.” This, on the same day that the paper is full of reportage of multiple Israeli killings of Palestinian children in United Nations shelters. Of which you have not a word to say, except to demand that Israeli soldiers not be criticized, to exculpate them as facing a “terrible choice.” And to characterize Israel as “those who celebrate life.” Have you no shame, sir?
What is particularly heartbreaking about reading this advertisement is that I have taught your book, Night, and taught it as a universalist statement which, as the Nobel Committee put it, “embrace[s] all repressed peoples and races.” Except for Palestinians, apparently. Knowing your apparent beliefs, I can never use your book again, or I would be as hypocritical as you are, sir. Or I would have to break my students’ hearts and reveal to them that the same man who writes about Nazi savagery gives his own group a pass when they are the murderers. Or should I split hairs and explain to them that collective punishment which is not followed by genocide is somehow acceptable?
Is it really true, sir, that this war is “yet another struggle for [Israeli] survival?” (my underlining) You must be aware that this is an absurd statement, turning the oppressor, the ghettoizer, into the victim; it betrays either a lack of connection to reality or purposeful deceit. Is describing this war as one of “civilization versus barbarism” an example of a “message… of peace, atonement and human dignity?” (Nobel citation) Only in a world devoid of morality. I thought you believed in a universal morality, sir, but apparently I (and the Nobel Committee) was in error; you can only see tragedy when it falls on those you find suitable victims. For shame, sir.