Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Devouring Books: Night by Elie Wiesel

"The lament spread from wagon to wagon. It was contagious. And now hundreds of cries rose at once. The death rattle of an entire convoy with the end approaching. All boundaries had been crossed. Nobody had any strength left. And the night seemed endless."
If you want a book that's almost excruciating to read and yet is also probably something that's really important for basically everyone to read, then that book would be Night. I think the title gives some indication about how bleak it's going to be, but I don't think I was at all prepared for how difficult Night would be to read. It's impossible to escape the fact that these are real things, that happened to a real person; and also that far worse things happened to many other people. It's almost too much to think about.

The more Holocaust literature I read (and I have read hardly any Holocaust literature because I just can't- I once wanted to do a module on Holocaust literature at University, but I'm pretty glad I didn't now because... it's just too much.) the more I think about things. Things like, well, this is just one person's account, and there are 6 million dead people whose stories don't get to be told. What happened to them? Why did they die and this guy survive? (The main answer to that is, essentially, that Wiesel was taken to Auschwitz in 1944 and only [sorry, 'only'] had to survive for a year or so. I suspect that most of the people taken into the camps earlier than that just didn't make it). So, as well as being horrified by one person's experience, I'm further furious about all the people who don't get to tell us what they went through.

So. Night. I was basically on the verge of tears while reading the whole thing, so that should tell you how much of an enjoyable read it is. I mean, reading the thoughts of someone who has faced the possibility of death every day, and, worse, doesn't much care whether it happens to him or not is not fun. Reading about his guilt for having the forbidden thought that he might be better off if his father dies because he won't have a burden anymore, and just wanting to relieve him of that guilt because it's not his fault- placed in an impossible situation, how could he help the things he felt? But that's the thing- there's literally nothing I could say or do that would make this any better, or make any of it not have happened.

Here's a thing I was thinking of a lot while I was reading Night- from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close:
"The end of suffering doesn't justify the suffering, and so there is no end to suffering."
Night was written 10 years after the Holocaust, and yet it's clear that Wiesel's suffering is still happening- admittedly, writing the book must have been somewhat of a release for him, and yet knowing the things that are always going to be on his mind are excruciating. To me, this is almost the worst thing about the Holocaust- that the Nazis didn't just take away a few years of these people's lives- the whole rest of their lives are going to be dominated by what happened to them, and what they remember of it. I'm not saying that no one can ever get over it, or live as full a life as they can after it, but there's nothing that can make it better, or make it not have happened. The whole rest of their lives is (or I suppose was... there can't be that many Holocaust survivors still alive, surely?) defined by what was done to them, rather than what they did.

For what it's worth, Night is extremely well written- a perfect mix of anger and eloquence, never getting sentimental or self pitying, only angry and sorrowful. It's difficult to read, of course, but then also, it kind of should be- there's no sugar coating what happened in the Holocaust, and there's no reason to spare us any of the details. Not because we should feel guilty about what happened (although I kind of feel guilty about belonging to the same species as the Nazis, but there's not much I can do about that) but because we should never let it happen again, and knowing how appalling it was is the best way I can think of to do that.

So, Night. It's not a barrel of laughs, but it is an important piece of literature, and one that I'm glad I read. Don't expect an inspirational tale with a happy ending, but be inspired to be kind and good. Just... make sure you have a lot of tissues and probably something nice to read afterwards, because man, is it hardgoing.

10 comments:

  1. You should check out Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It's part his narrative of the camps and part his theory on existential therapy. Truly brilliant and still relevant, imo.

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    1. I should indeed. I'm definitely into reading more Holocaust writing, but just, like, a little bit at a time, I think... Definitely a little bit at a time.

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  2. I remember we read this and The Hiding Place in high school to see a Holocaust survivor with faith and one without. Was an interesting contrast at the least.

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    1. That is an interesting contrast, and I'd definitely like to read The Hiding Place, just because... I don't really know how someone could go through something like that and still have faith. But I would like to read how.

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  3. I remember reading this in high school and being destroyed by it. I even have trouble reading the plot summary on Wikipedia. Have you ever read the other 2 books in the series, Dawn and Day? I want to read them but I feel like I'd need to read Night again, since it's been awhile and I'm afraid to do that.

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    1. Aww, bless you *comforting cuddle*. I haven't read the other two, but I'm thinking they'd be easier to take, since they're fictional and not set in the camps (am I right? I read about them on Wikipedia while I was 'researching' this, but also I have no memory lol). So, yeah, I do want to read them too. I think you can probably read them without reading Night again, cause it seems like they're only loosely related, as in, they're not really Wiesel's story, or at least don't directly follow on from Night.

      I think...

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    2. I'm not really sure what the other 2 are about. All I know is what Wikipedia says: "Night is the first book in a trilogy—Night, Dawn, and Day—reflecting Wiesel's state of mind during and after the Holocaust. The titles mark his transition from darkness to light." So those other 2 books might be at least hopeful!

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  4. "Unlike Night, Dawn is a work of fiction. It tells the story of Elisha, a Holocaust survivor. After the war, Elisha moves to the British Mandate of Palestine and joins the Irgun determined to oust the British from the area. One night, he is told he must execute a British officer at dawn. The novel covers his struggle with his inner demons."

    "Day is the fictional story of a holocaust survivor who is struck by a taxicab in New York City. While recovering from his injuries, the character reflects on his relationships and experiences during the Second World War, coming to terms with his survival and the deaths of his family and friends. The book was published in the UK as The Accident"

    There, fictional! I knew I'd read it somewhere!

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    1. Phew fiction. I can do fiction.

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  5. I read this book shortly after I saw him take a tour of Auschwitz a few years ago. It's haunted me ever since. I'm read a fair amount of holocaust literature, and it stays with you. It's one of those things that is hard to forget.

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