The Physical Toll
Several threads weave their way through the book. First, there is the tangible account of the base conditions and treatment of Wiesel and fellow prisoners. The author notes that words were carefully chosen to describe everything from the "chimneys looming in the distance under an indifferent sky" to his own physical description writing, "from the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me." Wiesel effectively and chillingly describes his daily suffering at the hands of the Nazis.
There is also a deeply embedded psychological thread throughout the book. Wiesel describes his own thoughts as he finds his psyche reduced to a survivalist mentality. In the wake of his own father's death, he is unable to weep due to fatigue and admits to perhaps even feeling relieved at his father's passing as he no longer has to care for him. Some in the concentration camps show tiny acts of kindness that the author heralds as heroic, while others exhibit man's basest instincts - such as ordinary men clawing over scraps of bread.
A Test of Spirit
Lastly, Wiesel often describes his religion with uncertainty and anger. Although he was brought up as a deeply observant Jew, he finds himself questioning God's motives and hating God for arbitrarily causing suffering to so many innocent people. And even in his lingering anger with God, he still finds himself praying. This spiritual dissonance seems to wear on Wiesel throughout his ordeal.
In spite of such horrific events, Wiesel often writes of a seemingly interminable silence among his fellow prisoners. Too tired to yell, cry, or even talk, there are long bouts of silence as a cloud of death surrounds them. Out of the author's survival has emerged Night and many other publications. Perhaps the most dangerous ingredient in the Holocaust was silence. Wiesel writes in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, "Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
Many readers will have read Night before, but not in this incarnation. Even if you have read this book, Elie Wiesel's words carry even greater weight in this new translation. If silence truly can breed such destruction, then when a survivor breaks that silence, it becomes our duty to listen. For those interested in a story of history, humility and humanity, Night is a precious example that deserves to be shared with the world.