This is not a book that a reader can “critique” or even, for that matter, “review”. To take an experience so personal and traumatic and attempt to filter it through the completely inadequate lens of a reader who has experienced nothing of similar magnitude would be arrogance of the grossest sort.
For any of my readers who might not have heard of Elie Wiesel or Night, this book is a memoir of the purest sort. It is a first person account of one traumatic year in Mr. Wiesel’s life, the final year of World War II in Europe, the year in which his idyllic life in a small town in Transylvania came to an end and the nightmare that was Auschwitz and Buchenwald began.
The words which continually surface in my mind as I have pondered this book are: raw, naked, honest, vivid. As a member of the community of mankind, I like to live under the perhaps naive notion that during the darkest hours in our history human beings have risen to display the best that is in them. When I use the words naked and raw I am not just referring to the sheer emotional drain that is contained within the covers of this book. I am referring to the fact that Elie Wiesel does not try to make humanity look noble. He does not try to make himself look noble. Man’s innate selfish quest for personal survival is not shied away from. Indeed, when editors insisted on removing the most raw section with regards to Elie’s response to the final hours of his father’s life, Elie wrote it into his introduction to the book.
As with most books dealing with the Holocaust, the central theme of this one is man’s inhumanity to man. The unalloyed emotional candor of this book sets it apart from other Holocaust writings; it carved out a piece of my soul. It saddens me to think that in the aftermath of the war Mr. Wiesel could not find a publisher for his work. But for the tireless work of French Catholic Nobel Laureate writer François Mauriac, this powerful work might have been lost to mankind.
There are two books which I would recommend as tandem reads for Night, one a work of nonfiction and one a novel. The first is Alex Kershaw’s biography of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg’s time in Hungary during the waning years of the war, The Envoy. I also highly recommend Julie Orringer’s novel, loosely based upon the experiences of her Hungarian Jewish grandparents, The Invisible Bridge. Orringer’s work of historical fiction was my top novel of 2010.
The book itself is a scant 120 pages. Even if you read both introductions, by Elie Wiesel and François Mauriac, which I strongly recommend, you can finish the 135 pages of the book in under four hours. That four hours will change the way that you view not only the Holocaust, but the way that you view humanity. It is simply a must read.