Elie Wiesel's Night stands as the most popular Holocaust memoir ever written. What makes Wiesel's book stand out?
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What a good question! Let me give you a few points.
First, the size of the book makes a difference. It is a short book and therefore easy to read through. This is, of course, a practical observation, but one that is worth making.
Second, Wiesel tells the story from a personal perspective. Therefore, this point alone draws you in. A history book from an "objective" point of view might not be able to do this, but Wiesel is able to do so as he writes of his own life. Also the immediacy of the book grips you right away.
Third, the imagery that Wiesel uses is emotive. In other word, the book touches a chord in your heart. His relationship with his father, friends and family is something that all people can relate to.
Finally, it is worth nothing that Wiesel is a great writer. This helps tremendously.
Eli Wiesel's Holocaust novel Night was not initially welcomed with enthusiasm.
He had a hard time finding an audience...in a world that preferred the 1947 Diary of Young Girl written by Anne Frank.
Perhaps Anne Frank's book sent a message of hope—from the young author who saw goodness in all people.
Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.
Maybe people were trying to leave the painful past behind. However, it has been said that the only way to avoid past mistakes is to educate the world. George Santayana wrote:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
As painful as Wiesel's story was to face, for Wiesel it may have been a necessity—to speak about experiences of death that he had to confront in order that he might continue to live.
I wanted to see myself in the mirror hanging on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto.
From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me.
The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.
From a literary standpoint, Night is a short novel. What makes it so impressive is that Wiesel is able to convey such a powerful message in so few pages. His writing is succinct, while also sharing powerful plot elements and haunting imagery to convey his truth to the world in a manner that would eventually capture an international audience. Wiesel does not use the novel to preach. He relates his experiences and lets the reader decide what message he or she will take from the story.
The reader's conclusions are meant to be independent, although they have been lead, quite consciously, toward an abhorrence of the moral vacuum presented in the camps.
Wiesel's novel presents a first-hand accounting of a topic that is a universal mystery: how could the Holocaust ever have taken place? How did the world allow it to occur?
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is a futuristic novel that follows the decline of society. One man assumes personal responsibility for his part it this decline:
...you are looking at a coward. I saw the way things were going on, a long time back. I said nothing. I'm one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out when no one would listen to the 'guilty,' but I did not speak and thus became guilty myself.
Wiesel, one of more than six million victims, could not remain silent. Even though one might understand if his desire had been not to speak of that time, his silence would have concealed the realism and horror of the crime. Perhaps he also told his story for all those who could not tell their story—Wiesel's father, mother, sister, and countless others.
Wiesel's writing style may be engaging for its simplicity, but it is Wiesel's humanity and his ability to convey the essence of the "everyman" motif—that this could happen anywhere in the world—that is more powerful. As much as we would like to cling to the certainty that it could never happen again, Wiesel speaks out still, fighting for others who are being oppressed, such as those in Darfur. Regarding the Sudan, he said:
How can a citizen of a free country not pay attention? How can anyone, anywhere not feel outraged?...And above all, how can anyone who remembers remain silent?
Night may be the most popular Holocaust novel because it calls to our need for justice. Additionally, Wiesel's literary integrity is riveting as he shares his experiences with the world—speaking out about a boy's—and a world's!—loss of innocence.
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