Monday, May 21, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : Night

"I remember, May 1944: I was 15-and-a-half, and I was thrown into a haunted universe where the story of the human adventure seemed to swing irrevocably between horror and malediction."

Night is a memoir of Elie Wiesel about his experience in Nazi German concentration camps at the end of World War II. It is very dark, hopeless, and depressing. It's actually the first in a trilogy by Elie Wiesel in which he describes his personal transition from darkness to light during and after the war. The following books in the trilogy are entitled "Dawn" and "Day".

The road to getting Night published was not easy. After being liberated from Buchenwald at the end of the war, age 16, Wiesel moved to Paris and in 1954 completed an 862-page manuscript about his experiences. This was somehow cut down to 245 pages and published in Argentina under the title "And the World Remained Silent". The French novelist Francois Mauriac took it upon himself to find a French publisher for Wiesel's work and in 1958, after more cuts, a 178-page book entitled "La Nuit" was published in France. Two years later in 1960, a 116-page English translation was published in New York under the title "Night". Over 40 years later, Farrar, Straus and Giroux approached Wiesel's wife Marion about preparing a new translation of Night and she accepted. In 2006, that translation was published and that is the book that I read on my way to Israel the first week of April.

In an introduction to the translation by his wife, Wiesel says that when the book was originally published in English, he was an unknown writer who was just getting started and whose English was far from good. Since that time, his wife has translated many of his other works and, according to Wiesel, she knows how to transmit his voice better than anyone else. As a result of her work, he maintains that Night is better than it was. 

I chose to read Night on my trip to Israel because we would be visiting Yad Vashem while in Jerusalem and it seemed appropriate. I finished the slim, 120-page volume on the way there. The weight of all that the Jewish nation survived during that horrific time in our not-so-distant history stayed on me during my time in Israel.

It's not fun to read about entire communities being slaughtered, families being ripped apart and never seeing each other again, living babies being tossed in the air by soldiers for target practice, a teenage son watching his father being beaten to death and then living with guilt for being afraid to stop it: these things ought never to be. But they happened. And we dishonor the lives lost if we sweep that part of our history under the rug.

While it is never pleasant to read accounts of such depraved, disgusting human behavior, I believe it is important to do so. The crimes and sins committed by humanity against humanity should rightly horrify and outrage us. Forgetting them may make us feel more comfortable, but by ignoring the past or blotting it out, we become far more susceptible to repeating it.

Night doesn't end on a happy or hopeful note. It is not uplifting in any way, shape, or form. Wiesel's writing is raw, heartbreaking, and painful. Despite all that, I would definitely recommend this book and because of all that, I would really like to read his following books Dawn and Day. Have any of you read them?

"Because I remember, I despair. 
Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair."

6 comments:

  1. excellent, excellent. i want to read this trilogy.

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  2. Beautiful, tragic, true.
    I need to read these.

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    1. I can't speak for the other two, but this one was really hard to read and at the same time, extremely readable if that makes any sense. I finished it before we even made it to our first hotel in Israel.

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  3. I've never read it, but I think I should. I'm not sure I realized it was a trilogy either, but that's good to know.

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    1. See my above comment to Caroline. It's such a depressing book, but very, very readable. I obviously can't compare it to the original English translation, but I imagine it really benefited from his wife's translation.

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