‘Night’ Raises Questions

Oprah’s newest book club selection, Elie Wiesel’s Night, has stirred up the debate over what exactly qualifies as memoir. In the New York Times, Edward Wyatt reports that the new edition corrects some factual errors in the book, though it’s unclear exactly what’s been corrected. Everyone associated with the book calls it a memoir.

“Some minor mistakes crept into the original translation that were expunged in the new translation,” Mr. Seroy said. “But the book stands as a record of fact.”

The publisher might itself have contributed to some of the debate. A teacher’s guide to the book posted on both the publisher’s Web site (www.nightthebook.com) and Ms. Winfrey’s site (www.oprah.com) says the book is “only slightly variant from Wiesel’s own personal and familial history.”

Mr. Seroy said the guide had been prepared for the previous translation, by Stella Rodway. He said that Farrar, Straus didn’t change the teacher’s guide because it feared that taking the statement out might raise questions about whether the publisher was trying to cover up any changes.

The problem this time, however, might not lie in the classification of the book as with the credibility of its author. Adam Shatz, literary editor for The Nation magazine, argues in an op-ed piece that

[T]here’s no denying the truth of Wiesel’s experience. But he has his own problems with credibility, which Winfrey might wish to note. Not with the facts of his own life but with broader issues of historical truth and historical memory, which touch upon matters far more substantial than the number of hours James Frey spent behind bars.

For example, Wiesel does not believe that Gypsies and gays should be remembered alongside Jewish victims of the Holocaust, although hundreds of thousands of them perished. He has frowned upon the use of the term “genocide” in reference to the Armenian holocaust.

Wiesel’s troubles with memory and truth are especially acute when it comes to Israel’s behavior toward Palestinians. For example, he has long maintained that the 1948 Palestinian refugees left voluntarily, “incited by their leaders,” a claim that Israel’s own historians have done much to shatter.

Oprah will host a discussion with Elie Wiesel on her show next month.

Thanks to Matt for the LA Times link.