There are some books that touch us more than others. There are books that strike us to the core. Of the many books I have read, few have touched me the way the that Night and Dawn by Elie Wiesel has.
Night and Dawn are the first two books of the Night Trilogy. These books go together and complement each other well, but the word trilogy is a bit misleading as they are not a continuous story line. In this article I will be talking about the first two books, Night and Dawn.
The first book in the trilogy is not a work of fiction, but of fact and true events. In Night, Wiesel tells the story of his time in the Nazi concentration camps, Auschwitz and Buchenwald. With his first-person account, the reader becomes one with young Elie as he recounts the horrors he experienced during the Holocaust. While reading this book it is easy to forget that what you are reading is a true account and not a harmless piece of fiction. It is truly haunting to hear what took place in those camps from a survivor and to know that many of those he interacts with throughout the book never made it out alive. It can be hard to accept the horrible things he experienced as being real, but of course nothing can really be stranger or more horrifying than reality and the truth.
I read Night for the first time when I was in the eighth grade. Before we began Night we read poem called "The Butterfly" by Pavel Friedmann. Each of us then colored and cut out a paper butterfly that our teacher hung from the ceiling. Every day in class we saw those paper butterflies, which represented a person who died during the Holocaust. They hung above us as we read Night as a reminder of how real the story we were reading was. That first time I read Night I was only taught about how sad it was and we did not go into depth on anything else related to the Holocaust or the war. All that I learned was sadness.
The second time I read Night was a year later during my freshman year of high school. During this second reading I learned much more from this book. I remember my teacher passing out the books and immediately recognizing it and wishing not to read it again. This time, the class was doing a whole unit on the war and the Holocaust. Each of us had to write a research paper and present it to the class. We also engaged in a lot of discussion about different things that occurred. With the deeper understanding I gained in class the story became more than just immense sadness. The sadness was still there, but there was much else that could be pulled from the story. There was the struggle for life, but also the struggle for God and belief. The book gives a deep insight into the lives of those who were forced into the concentration camps. It shows more than what you find in a history book.
The second book is called Dawn. It is set in Palestine just after the war. This piece is follows the fictional character of Elisha, who moved to Palestine after surviving the Holocaust. Elisha is part of a group trying to force the British out of Palestine. The book takes place during one night in which Elisha is waiting for the morning when he has been told to kill a British military officer. The story follows him as he deals with the internal conflict about killing the man.
What’s interesting about this book is the look inside the head of a man considered to be a terrorist. In this instance from the British point of view those working to force them out are terrorists and should be treated as such. Reading from Elisha’s point of view and his internal struggle over killing the officer shows that not everything is as cut and dry as one may think. It gives a human aspect to a person viewed by others to be evil and inhumane. The address of his internal turmoil shows that he as an individual is not simply evil. Elisha has thoughts and feelings and these things cause him confusion. The progression of the story shows a bit of how people who belong to these groups transition from who they were before joining. The story is one of change and development for Elisha.
I read Dawn a couple years after Night. At first I was unaware there were other books that went along with Night until I came upon them in my bookstore. Reading Dawn was an intense experience. There are many parallels to be seen between then and now. There is the continuing struggles in Palestine, though now it is between the Israelis and the Palestinians. There is also the struggles with terrorism all around the globe.
Dawn has caused me to question many things about the world we live in. It gives insight into one man but also into myself. It makes me wonder what I would do in Elisha’s position. It makes me wonder if there is something that would cause me to willingly go into something like Elisha does. It makes me wonder what I am willing to do for the things I believe in.