Yesterday, I finished reading Elie Wiesel's Dawn. It is a short read of just over one hundred pages, and yet I found myself continually putting the book down and walking away. One hundred pages in three days, I almost feel ashamed... almost.
Dawn chronicles the lasting effects of the Holocaust for Elisha, an eighteen year old Jewish freedom fighter assigned to kill an English officer in Palestine. Wiesel's work is highly metaphorical, strongly emotional, and exceedingly dark. Wiesel parallels the actions of freedom fighters in Palestine to the atrocities of the Holocaust. Notions of murder and humanity echo within both Wiesel's portrayals of Elisha's exposure to Nazi atrocities in a concentration camp and the actions of Jewish freedom fighters in 1940s Palestine.
Two quotes from Wiesel's work illustrate his central themes:
p 69: "There lies the problem: in the influence of the backdrop of the play upon the actor. War had made me an executioner, and an executioner I would remain even after the backdrop had changed, when I was acting in another play upon a different stage."
p 58: "An act so absolute as that of killing involves not only the killer but, as well, those who have formed him. In murdering a man I was making them murderers."
I am particularly fond of these passages. The first exemplifies Wiesel's contention that once one commits murder they will always remain a murderer, despite where or why the murder took place. The second passage illustrates the powerful influence individuals and culture have in one's life. The people individuals are in contact with and the culture they are exposed to collectively contribute to the acts of inhumanity that the individual perpetrates.
Overall, Dawn is an intense and precise examination of an executioners' thoughts hours before he performs his order. It portrays the psychological turmoil following the Holocaust and suggests that war is never truly over. Instead, the cruelty and barbarity of war is perpetually repeated throughout time.
* Dawn marks number 1 out of 15 novels read for Historical Tapestry's 2011 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.