(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Night is a work by Elie Wiesel about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust and toward the end of the Second World War. In just over 100 pages of sparse and fragmented narrative, Wiesel writes about the death of God and his own increasing disgust with humanity, reflected in the inversion of the father–child relationship as his father declines to a helpless state and Wiesel becomes his resentful teenage caregiver.
Penetrating and powerful, as personal as The Diary Of Anne Frank, Night awakens the shocking memory of evil at its absolute and carries with it the unforgettable message that this horror must never be allowed to happen again.
When you read about the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel is one of those survivor names that keeps cropping up again and again because of the amazing things he went on to do later in life. While I was researching his story I noticed that there are actually two versions of Night: one from 1982, translated by his publisher at the time and another one from 2006 that was translated by his wife (who translated most of his fictional novels). I decided to read the most recent one because of the introduction where he mentioned that he was now able to correct and revise some of the details that had gotten lost in translation in the first edition. Because of that introduction I believe this one is the more faithful translation when compared to the original Yiddish manuscript and decided to read this 2006 version.
One of the things that really struck me about Night when I started reading it is the sparse but beautiful prose Elie Wiesel uses. He describes things in a way that ensures they’re ingrained in your memory but never really gets flowery about it. I can still picture the scene of the ghetto emptying day by day until Elie’s street is called for transport. I can picture the horrific burning ditch that greeted Elie and his father when they arrived at Auschwitz and learned the truth: their denial of the horrors a fellow townsman had warned them of might very well be their undoing. It’s really stark prose and it drives home the horrors of all that he witnessed in his months-long stay at various concentration and work camps, first at Auschwitz, then Buna and then to Buchenwald where he and the rest of the prisoners were liberated in 1945.
While the prose and descriptions are stark, you really do get a good sense of his mindset as he adjusts psychologically to his situation. At first he’s still pretty naive and horrified by what he witnesses but by the end you can tell that he’s lost some of that humanity, that sense of the importance of every single life. And who wouldn’t, given the circumstances? He takes his readers on a journey through the loss of his faith in a benevolent, almighty God and how his father kept him alive for so long despite Elie’s lack of will to live at times. It really does hit you hard; this little book of just 115 pages packs one heck of a punch and it does leave you wondering what sort of humans could carry out such horrible deeds. There aren’t really any adequate words to describe my feelings after reading this book but it’s a combination of sadness, happiness, numbness, despair, confusion and hope. I think every reader will have a different emotional experience.
If you’re the sort of person who is interested in history in general, but particularly in survivors’ accounts of the Holocaust, Night is definitely a must-read. Elie Wiesel is a master writer who can pack such an emotional punch in so few words that sometimes his story will leave you breathless. I can’t recommend this book enough.
I give this book 5/5 stars.