Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review: NIGHT by Elie Wiesel

Earlier this year, I read a book Great Souls by David Aiken in which the author presented biographical tributes to six people he thought had made significant contributions to humanity in the 20th century. Each story was so well done, and made such an impression on me, that I set out to read something more about each of the honorees. In the case of Elie Wiesel, I decided to read his first book, NIGHT, a short, dramatic, painful and powerful description of his life in German concentration camps during World War II. He was only 14 when taken prisoner. Able to stay all of his time with his father (and encourage the older man while receiving his father's support), he takes us with him on rides on the crowded cattle cars, through a life of living on one cup of coffee, a small piece of bread, and sometimes a bowl of very thin soup daily, while doing hard labor, or forced marches, trying to avoid being identified as one chosen to go to the crematorium. The story of how he goes from being a star Talmudic student in the pre-war Jewish ghetto, to an almost total rejection of a God who could allow all this horror to occur, is written in a stark, simple, and heartbreaking prose. It was not an enjoyable book to read, but an essential one. The audio book version I listened to ended with the acceptance speech he delivered when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. The speech was as inspiring as the book , and greatly affirming. This is a must read for any human who wants to understand what it means to be human. The closing sentences (after he had been emancipated from the camps) say it all:
"One day when I was able to get up, I was able to look at myself in a mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me."


  1. The horrors of the Holocaust have provided material for lots of great memoirs and novels, but this is one of the best. It's fitting that you reviewed it in the week that includes Holocaust Remembrance Day.
    p.s. Welcome to Book Blogs from a fellow Confederacy of Dunces fan. Hope you enjoy the network.

  2. I read Night once in high school and again in a Jewish Studies class in college, and wow -- unforgettably powerful. Great review -- and a great closing quote!


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