Night; Dawn; The Accident: A Trilogy, by Elie Wiesel
In reading some reviews to this book after I had finished reading it for myself, I noticed that many people had a hard time placing this particular trilogy in that the first was a slightly (?) fictionalized memoir of the author’s horrifying experiences in the concentration camps and the other two books in the trilogy are novels about the future life of the fictional Elie that may or may not be close to the author’s reality and that are at least somewhat close to the author’s other writings that it may speak to his own experience or observations. I will treat the trilogy as a whole as a series of novels that range from being particularly close to reality and increasingly less so as the author becomes more free with his narration and more inclined to look at the possible effects of surviving the Holocaust on one’s joie de vivre. As the entire series of novels is a short one, and each of them is self-contained, the main unifying factor in the three books is the main character, who moves from a pious and overwhelmed teenager to a humane young man put in a horrifying position to someone who has an apparent death with that he wrestles with.
The book as a whole is 300 pages long and is divided into three parts. The first part, Night, is the most famous, and a book I had to read in the eighth grade myself as part of the Holocaust studies unit of history in Florida’s schools at the time. In this book we see Elie and his family being surprised by the invasion of Germany into Hungary and see him barely survive the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald as Elie’s father dies and leaves him deeply haunted by a sense of betrayal for not having done more to help him survive. After that comes Dawn, which one might think without reading was a more optimistic novel, but no, this novel instead shows the protagonist being ordered to put to death a British soldier at the same time as one of their own freedom fighters is put to death, and it explores the psychology of the Israelis in proving themselves to be ruthless enough to achieve their own independence and the respect of the world and to no longer be victims led to the slaughter as they had been in Europe just a few years before. Finally comes The Accident, which involves the recovery of Elisha from a nearly fatal car accident that he could have avoided, but which he sought as a way of escaping the deep depression and darkness of his life, all the while pretending to want to live.
Without a question, Night is the best of the books here, and is justly considered a classic Holocaust memoir. Dawn is the next best, a compelling look at the ruthlessness that has driven Israeli behavior in their dangerous part of the world and the need to both project strength and to demonstrate that they are capable of self-defense, something which has led them to receive a greater degree of negativity that other, far more ruthless nations, have not received for their brutality. One wonders if the rest of the world expects Jews merely to be passive victims rather than people capable of self-defense, and why it is that self-defense is so much more problematic for them than for others in world opinion. The third book is the least satisfying of the lot, largely because the least is happening, and because the efforts of Elisha to hide his despair seem pointless and even cruel, especially to his girlfriend Kathleen. Even so, as a whole this trilogy is a worthwhile example of Wiesel’s deep and abiding interest in exploring the consequences and repercussions of surviving the evils of the Holocaust and the damage it does to one’s faith and optimism.