Hard Reading

Night by Elie Wiesel is this month’s book choice for the Classics Book Club at Oak Grove Library. I thought the reading would not be so hard since I had read it several years ago. The problem is not its length [120 pages] nor the difficulty of its vocabulary or the complexity of its structure. Rather it is that the simplicity and sparseness of its language conjures up mental pictures far beyond the words on the page. This second time through was even harder than the first as I found myself anticipating the horrors to come. I remembered our visit to Dachau when we were in Germany and vivid pictures of the concentration camps inserted themselves into his story.

 The first time through I took his description of the mad woman on the train leaving their village at face value. This time I saw the foreshadowing of the crematoriums in her cries of “Fire! I see a fire! I see a fire!!” I waited for the command “Men to the left! Women to the right!” that would take his mother and sister to a place where he would never see them again. I waited for the brutality, the starvation, and his father’s death only days before they were liberated.

I’m still waiting for the satisfying ending. By the time Elie Wiesel was free, he was alone, looking in the mirror at what seemed to be a corpse gazing back. His words in his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech come nearest to giving closure as he uses what happened to him to cast light on others whose human rights are nonexistent. “Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.”

The words in his speech hark back to his opening of the book, “Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”

I recommend this hard reading in the hope that we, too, shall never forget.