Transated Fiction

Night by Elie Wiesel

Posted in Transated Fiction on November 11th, 2010 by admin – 4 Comments

In Night, Elie Wiesel recounts his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald from 1944-45.  He was a young teenager living in a Jewish Ghetto, Sighet in Transylvania and in the early years of the war the Jewish community were left to live in relative peace.  In the opening chapter of the book, Moche, the synagogue caretaker, escapes a mass execution by the Nazis after being deported from Hungary.  He returns to Sighet to warn the remaining Jews of the Nazi threat but no one pays him any heed, thinking that such cruelty is unconscionable.

He told his story and that of his companions.  The train full of deportees had crossed the Hungarian frontier and on Polish territory had been taken in charge by the Gestapo.  There it had stopped.  The Jews had to get out and climb into lorries.   The lorries drove toward a forest.  The Jews were made to get out.  They were made to dig huge graves.  And when they had finished their work, the Gestapo began theirs.

I did not believe him myself.  I  would often sit with him in the evening after the service, listening to his stories and trying my hardest to understand his grief.  I felt only pity for him.

Eventually, they do believe Moche but it is too late and Elie and his family are sent to the death camps where survival becomes the ultimate prize at any cost even if it means ignoring the needs of the weak and forgetting about family loyalties.  Elie, who had once been a devout Orthodox Jew, finds it difficult to see God in the midst of such barbarity,

My eyes were open and I was alone – terribly alone in a world without God and without man.

Without melodrama, without oversentimentality, stating what happened in a straightforward narrative, Elie conveys the full horror of these events.   This novella deserves to be ranked among the must-reads in Holocaust Literature alongside Primo Levi’s work and The Diary of Anne Frank.

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Review – Bord De Mer (Beside the Sea) by Veronique Olmi

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Transated Fiction on June 22nd, 2010 by admin – 6 Comments

It’s been so long since I’ve read anything modern in French Literature but having seen Jackie from Farmlane Books’ wonderful review of the English translation of this from Peirene Press, I decided to give it a go.  Admittedly, one can lose a lot in translation, in my case not due to bad translation but rustiness in the language, but this prose is so simple yet so powerful and stark it did not matter that it wasn’t in my mother tongue.

Midweek, during term time, a single mother decides to take her two young boys, Kevin and Stanley, on a trip to the seaside.  Surely, this, their first vacation, should be a time of excitement, of joy….but something isn’t right – they leave in the middle of the night, anxious that noone should see their departure, the weather is dismal as is their hotel room with one bed hardly large enough to hold them all, it’s hard to distinguish night from day in this dreary seaside town whose inhabitants aren’t particularly welcoming to their visitors.  Even the sea is in foul, threatening form in this muddy resort much to the children’s dismay.  Their budget is limited to the contents of a tea caddy,  saved up loose change which seems to irritate the already hostile locals.  An excursion like this isn’t going to make the Show and Tell session at Primary school on Monday, oh no, it is evident that disaster is imminent and it is a certain sign of the author’s skill that such foreknowledge doesn’t reduce the poignancy and sheer emotional power of this desperate tale.

This is a short but potent read (121 pages) - it’s dramatic but restrained, one which will stay with me for a very long time.  We can only guess what dreadful circumstances have influenced the actions of this unnamed mother, perhaps depression, perhaps an abusive relationship but she is in desperate need of help while being desperately in love with her sons.  A must read…

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