Book Review: Dawn by Elie Wiesel

This book came to me by accident.  I was visiting the library at Anatolia High School in Thessaloniki one day and, as is occasionally the case, there was a pile of books on a table outside the door – books that had been purged from the collection, free for the taking.  I am wary of such books, as they are often not worth the trouble, either because they
are falling apart, or because they are lousy books.  But this one caught my eye because I had heard of one of Elie Wiesel’s other books, “Night”, due to it becoming one of Oprah’s book club selections.  Not that I follow her book club, but I read just about any article I
come across that recommends good reading material.

I figured “Dawn” might be some sort of sequel to “Night”, but it isn’t.  “Night” is an autobiography, the story of Wiesel’s internment in the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944 and 1945, but “Dawn” is a novel.  It is considered, however, to be part of a trilogy, “Night”, “Dawn”, and “Day”, which draws on Wiesel’s Holocaust experiences.

“Dawn” is very short; my edition was 102 small pages with large print.  It is listed as
a novel but is a novella, really.  It is told in first person by a teenage survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald who has been recruited in Paris and then trained in Israel in terrorist tactics against the English.  This eighteen-year-old, Elisha, has been ordered to execute a captive British officer at dawn, and the story concerns his personal anguish at being given this task.  It takes place during the night before the execution, though there are flashbacks of earlier times.  There is a fantasy element as well, as ghosts from Elisha’s past show up to keep vigil and converse with him, including his father, his mother, the rabbi who was his teacher, some other friends and acquaintances, and a small boy who represents a younger version of himself.  Elisha realizes that the execution will change him, that he will become a murderer forever after he has done this deed, but nevertheless he feels compelled to follow through with it.

This book is not to be read for entertainment.  It is devastating, heartbreaking, depressing.  It shows a man at the mercy of a dark destiny which he cannot change, and shows war as an evil in which there are no winning sides.  It is told succinctly, in direct, spare, poetic prose.  There is no fat.  It is lean and abrupt, like a bullet in the brain.  It
is a parable, in that it could apply to any war in any age in which men who have no personal animosity towards one another nevertheless confront one another as enemies.

I recommend this book, but as I said, do not approach it lightly.  It is the type of literary
experience that changes people, knocks the silliness out of them, sobers them up, causes them to confront their humanity.  If you are up for this kind of experience, give it a try.

I’m a professional writer; I make my living by my words.  I’m happy to share these essays with you, but at the same time, financial support makes the words possible.  If you’d like to become a patron of the arts and support my work, buy a few of my available books or available stories.  Thanks!

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