For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile. Care to join me?
This is another of the books I encountered as an adult that has shaped who I am as a reader.
It was a counselor I knew who recommended the book to me when I was going through a kind of “dark night of the soul” experience. I was trying to find a way to grapple with the one question I had no answer for: Where was God? My friend tried to tell me there was no “right” way to wrestle with that question, except I be honest, and she suggested I read Night as a model of honest grappling with God.
Elie Wiesel paints such a personally horrific account of life in the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, the heartless sundering of families, the brutality of hatred against those who are considered “other,” and yet, even as his faith died within him, the ties to God that Nazi hatred could not quite sever completely. When a young boy is hanged for some offense, some men in the camp asked where God was in the midst of the horror. Weisel’s response cut through me: “Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows.”
I understood Wiesel’s ambivalence regarding his reluctance to leave his father behind, and yet being resentful and angry that, in maintaining his father’s life, his own survival becomes imperiled. It is the legacy of the dutiful child: doing what is expected at the expense of one’s own sense of identity.
Night was a gateway, of sorts for me. I began to stop being afraid of the truth, especially my own. Although I still am fairly reluctant to speak my truth, I am rarely reluctant to acknowledge it, or even to confront it. I have a near obsessive need to understand my own truth, and I owe much of that to Night. I also began reading with more discrimination, searching for the truth in whatever book I happened to be reading. I do read for pleasure, but I am also searching for truth in what I read. I want to make sure that the author isn’t trying to pull a fast one on me. I want the truth of the tale: emotional, intellectual, spiritual, factual.
I know there has been much debate as to whether Night is truly memoir or if it is fiction. My response is that the label itself does not much matter. Night is witness and it is testimony. Only Wiesel, himself, can testify to the veracity of the details, and he is no longer here to do so. The emotional truth of the work is undeniable. The visceral response to the horror depicted, is true. The questions it raises are valid and worthy of careful consideration, even if never answered.