Thursday, August 14, 2008

What I'm Reading Now-August 14 edition

Night (Oprah's Book Club)by Elie Wiesel-This is a memoir of a holocaust survivor, and what can you say? Whether it was a good book or not is irrelevant; I think it should be read for it's truth. It's not trying to entertain, it's not trying to tell a clever tale; it's trying to tell one man's truth of what he went through in his journey from one Nazi death camp to another and it's beautiful and terrible and should be acknowledged. For what it's worth, I did enjoy it, if enjoy is, indeed, the right word.

I am really drawn to books from this era and, particularly, this subject. I'm not sure why; I guess I just find it fascinating, maybe because it's one of the most human moments in history. It's a terrible human moment, but it's also one of the most triumphant if you look at it from a survivor's perspective. The things that they went through are unimaginable to most of us, and yet they made it through somehow, whether it was through faith, skill, support of friends and family or just pure luck they made it through and lived to tell about it, tell it to all the world so that it would not be forgotten or ignored, which was largely Mr. Weisel's motivation.

The one thing that struck me about this book was the lack of emotion with which the author portrayed events like being reunited with his father after a selection day during which camp officials go through and select who is fit to live and who should die. At first I was surprised by this; I expected tearful reunions and separations fraught with worry and hysteria, extreme fear coupled with knee-buckling relief but none of that was present. Everything was very factual and sparse and to-the-point, and I think that's probably a reflection of the hopelessness and desperation and sheer exhaustion that was brought on by their circumstances. At some point, celebration is pointless because you know the victory can be taken from you at any time. At some point fear is useless because it uses up too much valuable energy. It's not that those emotions weren't experienced, but I think the expression of them became pointless if not simply impossible. This reminded me a lot of another book that I read a while back called When the Emperor Was Divineby Julie Otsuka, which told the story of a Japanese American mother and her children who were sent to an internment camp in Utah during WWII. It was simple and stark and deeply emotional without ever portraying that emotion. Emotion is pointless. What happened happened, and what you or I or the author or the characters involved (real or fictional) felt about it doesn't change a thing. It still happened.

Other bloggers who have reviewed Night:

Interestingly, this brings me around to what I like about the book that I am currently reading, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novelby David Wroblewski, and I will cover that in a separate post when I get done reading it. Also, I am reading it on my Kindle, which I think I want to cover in a separate post. For right now though, I will say that I really like the writing. There have been several scenes which have blindsided me emotionally, and I think it's due to the same style of writing mentioned above. Everything is very sparse and simple and laid out as it is, no frills, no explanation of emotions, just the acts of emotion, like a father resting his forehead against the side of the coffin that he has just spent all night building for his child. You're reading along and you're doing fine, you're doing fine, and then BAM! You're crying and you have to take a break to pull it together. In fact, I'll bet you're doing it right now, aren't you? I'm telling you, that father with the coffin thing gets to you.


Heather J. said...

I've read many Holocaust books myself, and many others set during WWII. I highly recommend "The Book Thief" (although I will say that the writing style takes quite a bit of getting used to). I just heard about another book called "Hana's Suitcase"; it's the true story of a Japanese teacher who tries to find out what happened to a little Jewish girl who suitcase she discovered in a museum. I haven't read it yet but it sounds fabulous.

Dreamybee said...

The Book Thief is on my (long) list already...who knows when I will get to it! Hana's Suitcase sounds intriguing-you hear the Japanese side OR the Jewish side, but I've never seen them combined in one story, even though their experiences parallel one another in many ways. Thanks for the info!