Erin W's Reviews > Night

Night by Elie Wiesel
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's review
Jun 03, 2011

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bookshelves: borrowed-read, fiction, 2011, 12-months-12-genres
Read in March, 2011

Based mostly on its position of having once been an Oprah book, I expected Night to be a positive-skewing “Being in the camp taught me to embrace humanity,” kind of story. I was surprised to discover that that’s not the case at all.

This book—which is very short, novella-length although it’s a memoir, not a novel—passes by like a dream, or rather, a nightmare. Elie the boy (he was a child when his family was taken) doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to pinpoint what the war means for people or society. He’s not got the time of an Anne Frank, who before she was taken to the camps spent a lot of time in hiding with nothing much to do but read and write in her diary and thus had a lot of unique insights on the thing. Elie the boy just worked. Worked. Starved. Feared. Slept when possible. And watched his father, much older and not in peak physical condition, waste away under the strain.

The part that continues to stand out for me now is the run. The men in Wiesel’s camp need to be moved to another camp several miles away. There are too many of them to be transported by vehicle—not that they would have been, probably, because as far as their captors are concerned they are lesser than human and not worth any concern—and so the men are led there in formation, not walking but running. Running beyond the capabilities of their starved, tortured bodies. Running beyond the capacity for pain, like zombies. Trampling those who fall.

Maybe this part stuck out for me because I am physically pretty weak. I do a lot of walking, in general, but I run never. And reading this kind of book, you are forced to imagine yourself in these surroundings. A story of survival never fails to cause me to question how I would have fared in the same situation. Having guns trained on you is surely a psychological incentive to do a lot of things that seem impossible. But there is something more in the run, in this entire book, really, something that extends beyond fear, a source of motivation to live. And it’s not faith; Wiesel is damn straight about that. Like I said above, this is not a work of catharsis or triumph of humanity. He has lost his faith, he writes, and that is where it happened, in the camp. And years of safety and security in America, family, success, have none of them turned that tide for him. What is it, then, that kept him moving? That kept him living?

I wish I could say I figured out what it was, but I did not. Maybe I need to read Dawn and Day.

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