Monday, May 01, 2006

Two Reviews: Elie Wiesel’s Night and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian

Coming up as #8 and #9 in my 52-books-this-year-resolution are Eli Wiesel's Night and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian.

Night, which has been recently released as an Oprah's Book Club selection, with a new translation and introduction by Wiesel, is a very short, quick, easy read. (By the way, I've never read or listened to an Oprah selection that I didn't like.)

I've been interested in the Holocaust ever since I was in high-school when I was in our dradepartment'st's production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Our director was very into helping us live into the experience of the play, and we did things like listen to a Holocaust survivor tell her story. Hearing those stories then, and since then, and reading Night now, I have one continuing reaction: It is so horrible, it is hard to believe it is possible, and yet it all really happened. How do people think of such terriblterribleble things to do to one another? And justify the doing of them? Come up with rationales for such things? Make it OK in their minds?

Night is particularly moving for the way Wiesel examines the emotional and psychological toll his time in the camps took on him. He's not very forgiving of himself, brutally honest in looking at how being in the camps made him unable to care about anything but survival, and barely even care about that sometimes.

Also included is his acceptance speech on his winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. He said, "We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages ttormentertor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere." (pg. 118)

Kostova's The Historian was recommended to me way back when by Sarah Dylan Bruer. I'm not normally a vampire-tale kind of reader, but this is just an excellent book. A good mystery. A good example of excellent writing. The way Kostova unfolds the story is almost as good as the story itself. I am reminded of a scene in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician's Nephew, by C.S. Lewis. Children Diggory and Polly are exploring a new world. Diggory sees a bell with a hammer next to it, and a card that says something like, "You have to ring this bell, and risk what doing so will cause to happen, because if you don't, you will go crazy wondering what would have happened." The Historian, in a way, is a storyline driven by such a quest.

Two books I'd gladly recommend.
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