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Old 17th Aug 2004, 7:55   #1
rick green
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Default Elie Wiesel: Night

Taking a break from The Gulag Archipelago (between parts 2 & 3 if you're keeping tabs) I picked up...a nice, light confection to clear the palette? Nope. Another concentration camp memoir! This one presents a Hungarian Jewish youth and his trials at Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald. I felt a bit guilty when reading it because, as unspeakably horrible as the experience must have been, Wiesel's treatment pales in comparison to Solzhenitsyn's. Is it right to compare such things? In any case, It's clear to me why Wiesel got a Nobel for peace & Solzhenitsyn got one for literature. They both have a crucial story to share, but the later manages to do it with alternating grace, gallows humor, outrage and tenderness. If Night is a popular ballad, The Gulag Archipelago is a Wagnerian opera cycle.

So many questions are raised by the existence of forced labor camps & death camps. The salient point, of course, is their abject lack of humanity, their cruelty, their utter horror, and the disintegrating effect this has on a person. But there are many other angles to investigate. (e.g. What are we to think of their role in economic/industrial development? How do they compare to the use of convict & slave labor in other parts of the world, at other times? Are they necessarily phenomena of a bygone era, or could they rise again?) Wiesel gives a brief sketch of one person's experience. He doesn't address many questions. He isn't seeking, like Solzhenitsyn, to understand the camps. He wants to tell what it was like, for him, inside them. It is a modest task and a modest success. But compared too...

You see where this is going (and why I feel guilty about the comparisons I can't resist making). So in summary, Night has given me a new perspective from which to admire The Gulag Archipelago. Which is good, as I'll need that sort of encouragement to prod me on the terminus, 1,200 some pages away.
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Old 19th Aug 2004, 1:09   #2
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Little wonder you enjoyed the relative hilarity and lightness of touch in VGL rick
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Old 19th Aug 2004, 6:42   #3
rick green
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Yeah, no kidding. :D But I've dallied enough on the primrose path. It's back to the Gulag for me.
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Old 1st Feb 2007, 17:29   #4
John Self
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Default Re: Elie Wiesel: Night

Browsing through some old book reviews, I came across this with interest. Night was recently reissued in the UK as a Penguin Modern Classic, and I toyed with it briefly, but it looks as though I was right not to in the end.



PMCs seem to go a bundle on the Holocaust stuff. Aharon Appelfeld's Badenheim 1939, Louis Begley's Wartime Lies, even (tangentially) the newly reissued Giorgio Bassani's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. It's a big topic, all right, but I wonder whether the subject matter doesn't sometimes overwhelm the literature.
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Old 1st Feb 2007, 18:21   #5
Beth
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Default Re: Elie Wiesel: Night

My interpretation of Night was that it is not as much about the Holocaust as about the intimacy of village and family life, faith as demonstrated by the captives, the father-son relationship, and possibly insanity. Been a few years, yet I remember those angles more than the horrors of the camp. In refusing to address the larger questions as Solzhenitsyn does, I believe Wiesel makes, briefly and eloquently, the point that there can be no real understanding. I've only read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and can't speak to Gulag, but I appreciated Wiesel's approach.
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Old 6th Jan 2008, 13:58   #6
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Default Re: Elie Wiesel: Night

I hated reading Night. It made me so very depressed. It was an easy read though and the writing was okay.
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