BOSTON—Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said in an interview Monday that he recently revisited his debut work, Night, nearly 50 years after its publication and was “absolutely horrified” at the amateurish quality of the memoir.
“It was painful to read,” Wiesel said of the story of his journey from his childhood home to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz. “I know every great author says they hate their first book, but frankly, I’m embarrassed this ever made it into print. The sentence structure is artless, the plot is repetitive at best—and the constant mentioning of how I felt abandoned by God? What was the point of all that?”
Wiesel said that, although Night is not his only work that deals with his personal experience of the Holocaust, it is by far his “most humiliating.”
“I got so wrapped up in what I was writing, I couldn’t separate myself from the subject matter,” said Wiesel, adding that the eight-page account of the train ride from Gleiwitz to Buchenwald could have been trimmed down considerably to focus on the essential events. “I just assumed everything about my life was so fascinating, people would want to read about it. I was so naïve.”
Wiesel went on to criticize Night for lacking the subtlety of his later writings, claiming the use of foreshadowing was predictable and the description of the harrowing gas chamber selection process felt “clichéd…like bad daytime TV melodrama.”
“I simply seized on this ‘dehumanizing people through starvation and fear’ angle and beat it into the ground,” said Wiesel, who has learned over the years to “show, not tell” in his writing. “Rereading it now is absolute hell.”
The author also spoke harshly of Night‘s publisher, Arthur Wang, who encouraged Wiesel to write the book nearly 10 years after he was liberated from the concentration camps. He said Wang kept pressuring him to publish the story, while ignoring the inherent horror in Wiesel’s prose.
“[Wang] didn’t even have the decency to tell me my writing was completely self- absorbed,” Wiesel said. “He should have stopped this book before it got out of hand. Somebody, anybody should have intervened before it was too late.”
Night was a recent Oprah’s Book Club selection, selling more than a million copies in only a few months. It returned to the No. 1 spot on The New York Times best-seller list, introducing a whole new generation of readers to what Wiesel calls “shoddily written, college workshop garbage.”
Despite initially agreeing to the Oprah deal, Wiesel has told reporters he now regrets not revising the manuscript before its new publication.
“I would have at least liked to put in an interesting dream sequence, and extend this part here where my dying father calls out my name with his final breath,” said Wiesel, holding a heavily annotated paperback copy of the memoir. “I can’t believe another million people are going to read this atrocity. We’re just repeating the same terrible mistakes of the past.”
Added Wiesel, “God, I wish I were dead.”
Although he told interviewers his embarrassment over the memoir will continue to haunt him “during every waking hour,” Wiesel hopes that those who have already read his book will “just forget the whole thing ever happened.”