Normally, I would have read this book as part of the trilogy that it belongs in, but since this is my book-a-day challenge and this is the only one (inexplicably) on our bookshelves, I read it. The books, Night, Dawn, and Day, can stand alone.
When I was in college, Elie Wiesel was all the rage. Okay, so that’s not the way one would say that, but at any rate there was an interest in and reverence for Elie Wiesel and other Holocaust literature, and I read at least one of his books. If I had to guess, I would say it was Night. I don’t really remember it, but I didn’t have that familiar feel when I read Dawn, so I really doubt it was this one.
I was excited when I started, because I adore a great first sentence, and this is the opening:
“Somewhere a child began to cry.”
And through the first section, we keep returning to this child, which feels like an omen, a symbol. In fact, this book is rife with omens and symbols. It might even be considered magic realism, although I think we can say it’s more a psychological thing (as in, in the character’s head). Sometimes the reader’s not even sure what reality is, because Jewish mysticism in woven into the story at surprising moments, along with very deep introspection.
And that–the character’s head–about sums up this whole book. It is really similar to those one-room plays, since any action that takes place in this novel happens in the main character’s memory or in conversation, so you really are almost completely in one building the whole time.
I’m not sure being that close-in on a character is my style, honestly, so I was probably never going to love this book. It’s a thinker, for sure. And I’m sure there are plenty of contexts in which this book could really facilitate some important thoughts and conversation. On the surface, it’s about a Jewish Holocaust-survivor who is tasked with executing a British soldier in early-modern Palestine, and about how he deals with his conflicting feelings and conscience as the night before the execution drags on. But the internal conflict between violence and morals is a much more universal one, and–like I said–could be applied many places.
Also, it would make a quick and interesting read if you were studying the occupied Palestine of the 50s.
Recommend, but only if you’re that type or if you need a book to explore the moral conflict of violence as a means to a peaceful end.
“‘I’m not from around here,’ he said in a voice that seemed to listen rather than speak” (pxi).
“If today I am only a qusetions mark, he is responsible” (p25).
“…the mysterious world of the Cabala, where every idea is a story and every story, even one concerned with the life of a ghost, is a spark from eternity” (p28).
“Until this moment I had believed that the mission of the Jews was to represent the trembling of history rather than the wind which made it tremble” (p29).
“They too ran like rabbits, like rabbits sotted with wine and sorrow, and death mowed them down” (p45).
“No, it was not easy to play the part of God” (p45).
“The lucky fellow, I thought to myself. At least he can cry. When at man weeps he knows that one day he will stop” (p46).
“There are times, his father said, when words and prayers are not enough. The God of grace is also the God of war” (p58).
“A cold, I thought to myself. And in this case it turned out to have more practical use than either faith or courage” (p59).
“The silence of two people is deeper than the silence of one” (p67).
“An act so absolute as that of killing involves not only the killer but, as well, those who have formed him. In murdering a man I was making them murderers” (p79).
“He can’t say I’ll kill only ten or twenty-six men; I’ll kill for only five minutes or a single day. He who has killed only one man alone is a killer for life” (p90).
“Judge God. He created the universe and made justice stem from injustice” (p93).