Book Review: Dawn by Elie Wiesel

Book Review: Dawn by Elie Wiesel

Title: Dawn
Author: Elie Wiesel
Translator: Frances Frenaye
Publisher: Hill and Wang
Paperback: 81 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library Overdrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Elisha is a young Jewish man, a Holocaust survivor, and an Israeli freedom fighter in British-controlled Palestine; John Dawson is the captured English officer he will murder at dawn in retribution for the British execution of a fellow freedom fighter. The night-long wait for morning and death provides Dawn, Elie Wiesel’s ever more timely novel, with its harrowingly taut, hour-by-hour narrative. Caught between the manifold horrors of the past and the troubling dilemmas of the present, Elisha wrestles with guilt, ghosts, and ultimately God as he waits for the appointed hour and his act of assassination. Dawn is an eloquent meditation on the compromises, justifications, and sacrifices that human beings make when they murder other human beings.

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Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I was confused when I started reading Dawn, because it’s listed as being a sequel to Wiesel’s Night, which is more of a nonfiction memoir piece. While in theme, Dawn can certainly be seen as a sequel to Night given the subject matter, it is a fictional piece of work where Wiesel explores thoughts about killing and death, most notably, can killing a person ever be justifiable? This novel is a short but comprehensive into the life of Elisha, a young Jewish man who now fights for freedom for his own people in Palestine. He has been chosen to execute a captured English officer, in retaliation for the execution of another freedom fighter.

Like I said this is a short book, and I greatly enjoyed reading it. It’s a hard look at the circumstances that have led Elisha to his current position as an Israeli freedom fighter, and it deals with complex issues which are built on the foundation of Elisha’s and his friends’ experiences during the Holocaust. Because he has been chosen to kill another person, especially at the forefront of Elisha’s memories and reminiscences is the concept of death, what it means, and how randomly it chooses people to take away from us. However, it also explores relationships, what friendship and family is supposed to mean, what the point of war is, among other things. Elisha is conflicted, because atrocities were done to his people, and so he wants to be peace-loving and has a hard time with the violence required of him as a freedom fighter; at the same time, he believes that his people should have a place of their own to live. Elisha is a character that evokes empathy and his gentle personality made it so easy to feel sympathy for him and his friends. I loved Dawn for its stark honesty in exploring complex ideas and its refusal to turn away from dark truths — that people are somehow able to justify taking other lives because they are taught that it’s a way to prove their strength and a way to win. That wars are ugly and will always continue to be ugly until we can find a way to stop the violence.

It’s certainly not a happy book, but it is well worth a read, especially when considering it as a thematic sequel to Wiesel’s Night and taking a look at not just the statistics and numbers of executions during the Holocaust, but at the damage it did to many people who survived it, hurts that we continue to struggle to heal today.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Dawn by Elie Wiesel

  1. I didn’t even know about this book and I was confused when I read the description! Of course I’ve read Night many years ago and it haunts me to this day. I was surprised to see that this book is fiction. I have to add it to my to-read list. Thanks for the review on this!
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
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