Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review 330: Night

NIGHT, by Elie Wiesel. 120 pages. Hill and Wang paperback

This would be a good time to read -- or reread -- Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” always keeping in mind that all memoirs of the concentration camps were written by survivors, almost always those who, for one reason or another, got less severe treatment.

Elie Wiesel, for example, spent his first months at Auschwitz-Birkenau in an undemanding slave labor job sorting parts in an electrical factory.

Things got worse later and he barely pulled through.

The world did not want to hear such stories in the ‘50s, and it took a campaign by Francois Mauriac to find a publisher for “Night” in France. There was even less interest, and no academician to mount a campaign, in English-speaking countries.

Now, “Night” is famous, taught in schools, but one is left wondering exactly what impact is has. My copy was originally owned by a high school girl, and she left notes that make me doubt whether the power of the spare narrative, so evident to me, was felt by her. Apparently not.

In a late foreward, written to accompany a new translation by his wife, Wiesel asks himself why he wrote the book and, characteristically, remains uncertain. But we understand why we read them, at least as grownups.

“Night” is not about Jews but about Germans. By extension, about Palestinians, which is why now is a good time to read or reread it.

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