Night, by Elie Wiesel

My Copy: 9780374500016 (image from amazon.com)

I’ve read this thin book several times, but I can’t help still taking more than a day to read it. I let the language of the new translation soak in a bit. The style is unique in short memoirs, and you’re basically right there with Mr. Wiesel as he goes through the Holocaust.

And until a few years ago, I didn’t know this was just the first part of a “trilogy.” I use the term loosely because the other stories are about Jewish issues, but they are stories while this one is a memoir.

Night is about a young Jewish teenager in the last few years of the Holocaust, when the Jews of Sighet, Transylvania are living normal lives… at least until the Germans come in. One man knows that bad times are coming, but no one wants to believe him, and then things abruptly change. Page after page, the pace and the feelings change rapidly. The family and community are transported to Auschwitz, and that’s where the story really begins.

It is a short read, but if you take your time with it, it can be a difficult read. After several reads, I still find new things in this book that I didn’t realize before. Yes, it’s read by millions of schoolkids every year. Yes its a prize-winner and aspects of it have been lifted by screenwriters and novelists for some time, I’m sure.

But there are reasons, more than the initial memoir, to read this book.

For one, it answers questions that a lot of students have and even some adults. For instance, I’m always asked when I give tours why the Jews didn’t seem to resist what was happening to them. From the beginnings with Moshe the Beadle and his warnings, to the transports, there are some good answers in those pages.

Another reason to read it is the writing, especially for schoolkids, because it’s so different to most of them. The language flows and gives a inner view to this person. He’s not remembering every detail, every instance. He’s just remembering what made such an impression on him.

The writing feels odd because it’s not like other works on the Holocaust that I’ve read. Daily life in the camp is barely reflected on, because in Wiesel’s experience, I suppose there was no such thing as a normal day. And there were lots of death marches and transports–I suppose one could call his Holocaust experience one of constant movement. He does go into more about Buna, the labor camp down the road from Auschwitz, and picking up and breaking rocks.

But if you read it, it’s not what he had to do to survive exactly that makes the book what it is. He’s not recording himself as much as he is his awareness and observations of those around him and what they did or were going through: victim, perpetrator, and bystander alike.

Just to get a feel of the confusion of a young teenager trying to live through the madness of the Holocaust, I highly recommend this book. Even if you weren’t forced to read it in school–or even if you were–it’s worth a read just for itself.

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