Night by Elie Wiesel

Edwidge Danticat was the only author to list this in her top ten. I love the name Edwidge Danticat. I don’t remember ever hearing her name before, even with any other books I read for the Top Ten. I looked her up in the book to get her bio (and to find out that she was a she and not a he :O )

“Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was twelve. Her books include Breath, Eyes, Memory; The Dew Breaker and the Farming of Bones which won an American Book Award”.

Looking at her Top Ten, I have actually read a couple for this blog. And Dave has read a couple. So, apparently her name did not strike me with its originality until tonight.

Which might be because I just finished Night.

Before I start talking about Night fully, I will admit to something. I have, since an early age, been fascinated by the Holocaust. Not in an insane way or a creepy way (I have no Nazi uniforms and have no idea the name of the woman who was a wife of a commandant and supposedly made lampshades from Jewish skin). Further confession: I made Greg spend six hours in the Holocaust Museum on our honeymoon. Which, when I say that, he always responds “I was interested too”. (I do, in fact, often thank God that I married Greg).

Somehow, I had never read Night though. I remember picking it up once years ago and putting it back down. I think I was mainly interested in women Holocaust victims and survivors at that point. So, I picked it for this week.

Night is a very short novel in terms of words written. It’s a forever novel as in the images Wiesel sears into your soul. I’ve read a lot of Holocaust memoirs, fiction and historical accounts. Many that went on longer than Night. Night is one of the most vivid ones I’ve ever read. Wiesel would have done Hemingway proud in his brevity and ability to pack as much as he could into each word.

Wiesel, prior to going to the camps as a young teenager, was a very devout Jew, and in fact, had history not …you know, I can’t even think of the right word, the one that keeps coming to mind is raped, so raped it is…raped him, he would have probably been a Kabal scholar. The camps changed that.

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the faces of the little children whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God, Himself. Never.”

Later on, after seeing the hanging of a younger boy whom was well liked in the area of camp they were in:

“Behind me, I heard the same man asking:

‘Where is God now?’

And I heard a voice within me answer him:

Where is He? Here He is–He is hanging here on this gallows.

That night the soup tasted of corpses.”

Many authors I have read have talked about the immense hunger in the camps. Only Wiesel has managed to sum it up in one short paragraph so well.

“I now took little interest in anything except my daily plate of soup and my crust of stale bread. Bread, soup–these were my whole life. I was a body. Perhaps less than that even: a starved stomach. The stomach alone was aware of the passage of time.”

Elie managed to survive with his father until almost the end. Then his father finally, exhausted from their march from Auschwitz area to Buchenwald, died. Wiesel and his father had had the choice of staying in the infirmary at the camp they were at, but afraid of being “liquidated” they left with the others. Wiesel stated that he found later that 2 days after they left, the Russians walked in and liberated them.

This book will leave you feeling heavy. Weighed down.

But, still I highly recommend you read it.

One: As just a general human being on this planet, to see what some humans will do to other humans, to educate yourself, to develop a sense of compassion.

Two: As a writer, Wiesel’s writing could teach a lot.

And now, I’m putting the rest of his books on my To Be Read pile.

Have a great weekend 🙂

One Hundred Years of Solitude-Gabriel Garcia Marquez

So, I’m pretty sure with this book, Dave and I have wrapped up Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s contributions to  The Top Ten.   And, I have to say that I am _extremely_ happy that I had the opportunity to read this book for our experiment/project.

The following authors listed this book in their top ten:

Lee K. Abbott, Russell Banks, Pearl Cleage, Edwidge Danticat (and I’ve never heard of them before but LOVE the name!), Chitra Divrakuni, Karen Joy Foyler, Michael Griffith, Alice Hoffman, Jim Harrison, John Irving, Wally Lamb, Ann Patchett, Francine Prose, Jim Shepard and Alexander McCall Smith.

I remember once, years ago, picking up One Hundred Years of Solitude and attempting to read it.  I made it maybe ten pages in and gave up.  I’m not sure why, though most likely I was in the midst of reading Dean Koontz novels or something and the writing style is definitely different from that.   So, when I picked it up again, I did so without fully knowing what to expect.  I had a little trepidation, one might say.  Halfway through the first chapter, my trepidation disappeared and the story consumed me.  The language is beautiful.  I liked this one better than Love in the Time of Cholera, this one had a bit more magic to it than Cholera did.

The story follows a family and intertwined with the family, a town, Macondo.  In fact, the state of the town usually reflects the state of the family and vice versa.  The founders of the family, Ursula and Jose Arcadio Buendia are the first characters we meet.  Marquez is genius at painting characters in a few strokes.  He then spends the rest of the story coloring them in, but even if he didn’t, you would feel that you knew the character completely from the beginning.  The following is one of the beginning things said about Ursula.  Her and Jose are arguing, he wants to explore and abandon the city that he founded.  She doesn’t want to leave.  He tells her that no one has died yet in the city, so you know it’s not a real city until someone does.

“Ursula replied with soft firmness ‘If I have to die for the rest of you to stay here, I will die'”.

The story follows the Buendia family from this time until a hundred years later.  Jose & Ursula’s two sons are Jose Arcadio and Aureliano.  Jose ends up having a child who is named Jose Arcadio, but called Arcadio, and then Jose runs off to not be seen for a few more years of narrative.  Aureliano stays and becomes a Colonel in a Liberal revolution.  Jose is…very well endowed.

“…the willful first-born who had always been too big for his age, had become a monumental adolescent.  One night, as Ursula went into the room where he was undressing to go to bed, she felt a mingled sense of shame and pity:  he was the first man she had seen naked after her husband and he was so well equipped for life that he seemed abnormal”.  Ursula speaks to a woman who knows how to read the future in cards and Ursula confides in her that she thinks it’s unnatural and the woman responds it doesn’t mean that at all, just that he’ll be very lucky.

Aureliano is a bit…psychic.  When he is born, he is born with his eyes wide open, and then examined everything with a “fearless curiousity”, then concentrated on the palm roof.

“Ursula did not remember the intensity of that look again until one day when little Aureliano, at the age of three, went into the kitchen at the moment she was taking a pot of boiling soup from the stove and putting it on the table.  The child, preplexed, said from the doorway, “It’s going to spill.”.  The pot was firmly placed in the center of the table, but just as soon as the child made his announcement, it began an unmistakable movement toward the edge, as if impelled by some innter dynamism and it fell and broke on the floor”.

I highlighted both sons’ traits here, because throughout the following generations, their names are used numerous times and a lot of their descendants carry either the huge genital size or the psychic intensity.

However, the trait that ties all of the generations together, is the solitude in which they live.  I’m not talking about the family as a unit living in reclusive solitude as a family.  I’m also not talking about someone who walls themselves in a room in solitude and never comes out (though some of the Buendias do just that either for parts of their lives or their whole lives).  I’m talking about each of them having distance from everyone else.  Marquez begins referencing it (that I noticed) in the second half of the book when he would talk about this descendant or that and would talk about them as solitary.  That they experienced this even in the midst of being solitary.  That they were able to not do this because of being in the midst of being solitary.

One Hundred Years of Solitude has a more fantastical feel to it than Love in The Time of Cholera.  Time doesn’t pass the same sometimes.  One of Jose Sr’s mentors, an old gypsy, dies and comes back.  Another character lives to be beyond 150 years old.  One character ascends to heaven just in the middle of a normal afternoon.  Things will happen that others say never existed.

There is so much more to this book than I have explained above, and it would take ten blog entries to go into detail into every nuance of Marquez’s story.

I loved it.  That sums up pretty much how I feel about this book.  When I started writing this blog entry, and was flipping through for the parts I quoted above, I had the temptation to begin reading it again.  Within 24 hours of finishing it.  I felt like I had gotten so sucked into it that I was missing major portions of the language and the descriptions etc.

I was really excited to see John Irving had picked it.  One of my favorite books of all time is Widow For One Year by him.  He had a new one come out this year, In One Person, that I finished reading the day before I picked up this book.  I thought it was beautiful, it sucked me in and when it spit me back out, it lingered for a couple of days, and still tugs at my conscience sometimes.

If you read no other book that I’ve talked about in here since May, read this one.  It’s a different pace than a lot of novels, but it’s a translation.  Find that pace, get into the book, and enjoy.