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A journal of items that I am reading/ have read: a personal commitment for 2008
#587869 added June 9, 2008 at 9:52pm
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Night by Elie Wiesel
Cover art for novel
Night by Elie Wiesel
Hill and Wang
Copyright 1958
Translation copyright 2006 by Marion Wiesel
(Reading completed 5/27/08)

This is one of those titles that has been bandied about for years as a recommended book for young people who have studied The Diary of Anne Frank in their Language Arts and Literature classes. I finally got around to reading it when it was given to me as a freebie at the International Reading Conference in Atlanta last month.

I read Anne Frank's diary when I was a young girl myself, and became morbidly interested in the Holocaust, how such a thing was allowed to happen, how things like religion, skin color, gender, sexual preference, etc. can bring out the ugliest behavior in seemingly otherwise decent and rational people. I think reading Anne Frank was the beginning of my fundamental personal philosophy of the importance of live and let live,

I have always loved reading about history, preferring non-fiction to fiction, but it wasn't until I was grown and those before me started dying off that I really realized for myself the importance of oral history. My father's sisters and my maternal grandmother did a pretty good job of filling me in on the family history by sharing their first-hand accounts of events in their lives, events that would one day color and shape mine. But now that they are gone, and I am an 'elder' now, there is so much more that I wished I had asked when I had the chance.

In the book, NightElie Weisel shares his experience as a prisoner in German concentrations camps during the Holocaust. He bears witness to the disruption of his tranquil life in Transylvania with his parents and three sisters, to being segregated into Jewish ghettos by invading German soldiers, and then finally being rounded up and taken away to suffer the indignities of a world gone mad. As the females were separated from the males when they were taken away, Wiesel never saw his mother or sisters again. He and his father managed to remain together until circumstances mercifully released his father and him from the responsibility and burden of helplessly watching his father's slow and humiliating demise. Wiesel was the only member of his immedediate family to survive until liberation by the Allied Forces.

The great merit of this book for me was that it was told by someone who had actually been there, and was a direct victim of the atrocities, not just a witness to them. Wiesel begins his tale as a teenager, describing his deep, unquestioning belief and involvement in his religion. Then, as events unfold, he movingly depicts his gradual loss of faith. He describes with great detail and rich support, how he begins to challenge principles to which he had blindly lent his faith before his whole world, as he had known it, was cruelly ripped apart. 

I also found it interesting that although this book was first published in 1958, in the preface, Wiesel speaks of his reasons for writing the book, and of how so much was lost or misreported over the years as his popular manuscript was translated for international audiences. His wife, Marion, who translated many of his other books, completed this last translation of Night for him. He says,"... Marion, my wife, knows my voice and how to transmit it better than anyone else... as a result of her rigorous editing, I was able to correct and revise a number of important details."

Chalk it up to my naivety, but I hadn't ever considered the translation aspect of storytelling, although I am very much aware that languages don't mirror each other in meaning. How much of an original story really is "lost in translation" when it is originally written in one language and moved to another?

In the preface, Wiesel gives several examples of how the book actually changed based upon the language in which it was presented. It is interesting to see how one editor considered certain details important, while another put emphasis somewhere else, and another switched things around entirely. Night won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, and the Prologue of this edition of the book is a copy of the acceptance speech delivered in Oslo.

This is a powerful and disturbing book. In 2006, I visited Belsen-Bergen while on a trip to Germany. Most of the original structures of the concentration camp are gone, burned to the ground by the Liberation forces to wipe out typhoid. While I was reading, I was envisioning those huge burial sites I saw, commemorating the thousands of unnamed individuals they held and wondering how many wonderful contributions to the world were wiped out along with Wiesel's family, neighbors, and friends.

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