Day 841: Night

Cover for NightHere is my review of my Classics Club spin choice for Spin #11!

Night is Elie Wiesel’s spare and harrowing description of his and his father’s time spent in a series of concentration camps during World War II. He begins his story in 1944, where in the town of Sighet, Transylvania, the war did not seem to have touched the Jewish population. They had heard of problems in Budapest, but they knew nothing of the larger Nazi activities aimed at their people.

The first indications came from Moishe the Beadle, a man with whom Elie has been studying the Kabbalah. As a foreign Jew, Moishe was deported to a work camp. But he came back to tell everyone that all of the deportees were driven to Poland where they were forced to dig trenches and then shot. Moishe was wounded but managed to get away and returned to warn them. No one believed him, however. They naively refused to believe the Germans could behave that way. Elie and his family could have gotten a visa out of the country, even at that late date, but they stayed.

Next, all the Jews were rounded up into two ghettos, and not much longer after that, they were shipped out to Auschwitz. Once the women and girls were separated from the men and boys at the camp, Wiesel never saw his mother or sister again. He was 15 and probably only lived because an inmate told him to say he was 18.

At only 120 pages, this is a short but affecting description of his experiences in the camps. It does not dwell overly much on the horrific conditions, but we understand how terrible it was. The book also deals with Wiesel’s spiritual landscape, as he changed from a devout boy to a man who no longer believes.

This book is not a testament to human fortitude, for Wiesel makes it clear that humans under evil conditions behave badly. Instead, it is an important documentation of a black time in human history.

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Day 552: Dracula

Cover for DraculaHaving experienced other gothic classics of the 18th and 19th century, I was delighted to find Dracula unexpectedly readable. I was also surprised to find how little it resembles its many theatrical and movie productions, even those that attempt to stay closer to the original work.

All versions begin the same, however, with poor Jonathan Harker sent out by his office to Transylvania to complete a property deal with his client, Count Dracula. While staying at Dracula’s castle, he begins to suspect something is badly amiss and eventually fears for his life.

Back in England, his fiancée Mina Murray corresponds with and later stays with her good friend Lucy Westerna at a seaside town. In one day, Lucy has received proposals from three different young men, who all feature strongly in the novel. Dr. Jack Seward is in charge of a local insane asylum. Quincy Morris is a manly, amiable Texan, whom I feared all along was designed for a ghastly death. Lucy’s chosen is Arthur Holmwood, another manly young man who is soon promoted to a lordship by the convenient death of a benefactor. (I don’t think these things work this way, since Arthur is not his benefactor’s relative, but never mind.)

After a freakish storm, a Russian ship arrives unmanned at the port where Mina and Lucy are staying with Mrs. Westerna, who is gravely ill. As it arrives, a large dog jumps off it and runs ashore. Aboard is not a single live human. We horror aficianados know that Dracula has arrived.

While Mina waits for news of Jonathan, Lucy begins sleepwalking and behaving oddly. Dr. Seward makes notes about a patient who eats bugs and babbles about his master. Soon Van Helsing will be needed.

Unlike in most of the spin-offs, except for Jonathan Harker’s experiences at the beginning, Dracula is mostly an unseen menace for much of the novel. I’m guessing that the original readers did not necessarily realize the identity of that bat fluttering outside Lucy’s window.

In any case, the novel covers a lot more ground than does the standard remake. It is epistolary, written entirely as letters and journal entries. It is well written and moves along nicely except for the occasionally long-winded expulsion of pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo by Van Helsing or Seward. In the true gothic fashion, it is a classic battle of good versus evil, with the prize the soul of our heroine Mina.

Modern readers may be bothered by the depiction of the two women. Lucy is supposed to be a modern woman—who else would have three suitors at a time? She is both innocent and pure in herself and quite the seductive vamp when under the spell of Count Dracula. The men do a lot of harm to both her and Mina by trying to protect the “little women” from knowledge of what is going on. Again, try to judge the novel’s attitudes by the standards of its own time, when it was simply considered a whomping good tale.