There are only a few books in my life that I can say have impacted me to a great extent, and Night by Elie Wiesel is one of them. Simply put, he forces the reader to confront a battered history that had befallen the Jewish people in Europe during World War II. I can only say that it has brought me a greater understanding of the horrible actions that were taken in this shameful era of human history. But to greater extent, it puts a personal and vulnerable touch to what the Holocaust was. When I was younger, I had learned about the Holocaust with an almost separation from the events. I knew that 6 million Jews had been murdered by Hitler, but on that grand of a scale, I couldn’t truly comprehend each of those lives in all their complexities and tragedies. I have found myself digging for information on tragedies such as the Holocaust as it shows the raw and unfiltered humanness of life, oppression, emotion, and death. We rarely like to bring up things so painful that a word seventy-five years later still causes hushed whispers. But as time moves its metal hands, we can only spend that time understanding and progressing from what we had been before. Night is that much needed reminder of the atrocities that humans have the ability to do to each other. I would like to reflect on a passage Elie Wiesel’s acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. “…I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices…And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim… Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must-at that moment-become the center of the universe"(Elie Wiesel, 1986). I wish that things like this never happened, but seeing as we cannot alter history, we can only hope to prevent anything tragic in the future. We can only force ourselves never to forget, to inform our children of how horrible actions had caused endless suffering. And to never deny these concrete facts. To learn and read from survivors like Elie Wiesel gives us invaluable insight and personal accounts of a history that should never be repeated. I continuously am filled with a simple yet pressing question that doesn’t seem to be answered, which is: How could humans do this to one another? How could so much baseless hatred be directed towards a certain type of people? It brings me great sadness to have to reflect on something that should have never happened. And so, as Elie, I will advocate, stand up, and do everything in my ability to stop the suffering that befalls individuals and groups of people. Because if we don’t help one another, then it will only perpetuate more suffering that the world shouldn’t endure.
Final Rating: 4.5/5
Edinburgh by Alexander Chee takes a harrowing life experience as a child and uses it as fuel for an autobiographical novel. Those experiences documented damaging effects child sexual abuse can have on a victim. Told from the viewpoint of a child, Chee manages to weave the culture of his Korean descent into a sweeping narrative that contextualizes the abuse through metaphors and Korean fairy tales.
The story begins with a tale about the Fox-demon in Korean culture known to bring bad luck and creates the framing for the way the main character, Fee, interprets his eventual abuser. This use of the Fox-demon is one of the main metaphors drifting in and out of the narrative with imagery of foxes splintering the moments of greatest turmoil. Fee, being a member of a boys’ choir in a catholic church, also interprets life events through a layer of music in its movement and meaning. In the case of Fee, he uses singing as a way to cope with the choir director, Big Eric, who abuses him and the other members of the choir. The music itself is a point of contention where Fee both appreciates its beauty but dislikes its connotations of Big Eric. It is a double-edged sword that Fee battles with because it is difficult for him to give up the one thing holding him together.
Throughout the novel, Fee sees the way the abuse affected the rest of his choir with two of his best friends killing themselves. This aftermath forces Fee to truly interpret the way his abuser had always been the Fox-demon that he was warned about. Even still, Fee’s feelings are nuanced due to his realization that he is gay and that those feelings had been defiled by his abuser. Though once Fee ages, he finds himself becoming the person his abuser had been.
Edinburgh has strengths that go beyond its telling of the story and shines once the metaphors and form are fully taken into account. Edinburgh is written as if it were a poem in novel form in its use of fragment sentences and concise imagery. This attribution only strengthens how the book is supposed to be interpreted through the eyes of a child still learning to understand the world. The fragment sentences are invitations for the reader to finish the thought in a way that they are pulled deeper into the story itself. The problem is that those sentences are never usually finished with the desired punchline, but rather the needed one. In contextualizing the abuse with Korean culture, the reader takes a greater understanding of pain and trauma endured.
Edinburgh is a novel that acts as a canary in the coal mine for the abuse within the catholic church. While it wasn’t the first novel or allegation of sexual abuse within the catholic church, it acts as one of the first to take the endured abuse and provides a culturally framed lived experience. Many times, events of abuse are documented in a sterile way in which it is only written what happened rather than what was felt. This novel humanizes the victim and forces the reader to reckon with the fact that what happened was both experienced and felt. And in framing the experience through an Asian American lens, Chee works to create a context far beyond the abuse written about in his novel.
Final Rating: 4.5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.