REVIEW: Night by Elie Wiesel

NightFormat:  Audio CD
Genre:  Classic Lit
ISBN:  1419390694
Published:  1958 / 2006 (audio)

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

Though technically a novel, Night is also an unmistakably autobiographical depiction of the author’s own gruesome experiences in Nazi Germany’s death camps. Told through the eyes of 14-year-old Eliezer, the tragic fate of the Jews from the little town of Sighet unfolds with a heart-wrenching inecitability. Even as they are stuffed into cattle cars bound for Auschwitz, the townspeople refuse to believe rumors of anti-Semitic atrocities. Not until they are marched toward the blazing crematory at the camp’s “receptions center” does the terrible truth sink in.

Recounting the evils at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, Wiesel’s enduring classic of Holocaust literature raises question of continuing significance for all future generations: How could man commit these horrors, and could such crimes against humanity ever be repeated?

My Thoughts:

It has been almost 30 years since I read Night the first time. I was riveted by it as a teenager, and now, having listened to it this time around, I am equally moved, but in an entirely different way.

What I did not remember from my first reading of this book is how spare and minimal the language is. Wiesel is a master of understatement. I was actually a little (ok, a lot) bothered by the fact that, as I listened, I kept having the impression that these were awful, terrible, wrenching things for Wiesel to experience at 15 years of age, but they were ultimately survivable. And clearly in Wiesel’s case, they were, but that is not the point. It is actually a testament to Wiesel’s mastery of storytelling that he doesn’t overwhelm us with the monumental evil that was perpetrated on the Jews and so many others. He gives us just enough to digest, enough that we are easily able to infer the true scope of Hitler’s vision.

Wiesel speaks to all of the above in the prologue to the revised translation that was published in 2006. He discusses specifically the need to not say too much, and his concerns that even after editing, he still worried that he had overstated his experiences. I truly can not comprehend how the Holocaust could be overstated…even the name is (in Wiesel’s words) an understatement. Nevertheless, I do understand that the further away we move historically from the atrocities of the Holocaust, the more “unbelievable” it becomes to those reading about it for the first time, and in that respect Wiesel has written a book that can be believed without saying, repeatedly, “That’s impossible!”

The only thing I can add, at this point, is that this book is not to be missed.

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4 Comments

  1. Interesting! I read this a couple of years ago, when I was in high school. My take on it will probably be different if I read this a couple years from now. I love that about rereading books. Since you enjoyed this, you might want to read The Boy In the Striped Pajamas if you haven’t already. I didn’t like it as much as Night, but it’s still an okay read to at least experience once.

    • I have read The Boy in Striped Pajamas, and like you, I prefer Night. I didn’t like how Boyne constructed his narrative, especially making the children so unbelievably naive. I found it utterly impossible to relate to that, whereas Wiesel (having been there) was able to connect us to his experiences.

  2. This is a great book. I appreciate your review of it. The one thing I got out of the book was how the Jews were in denial up until they were being taken away in chains. It makes me wonder if we today are able to recognize threats to our freedom or do we rationalize things away like they did back then.

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