Elie Wiesel and Night

Here’s another topic I didn’t necessarily want to address publicly, so I’ll be brief.

I’ve owned a copy of Night for a long time. How long? The price on the cover reads $2.95. Fifteen years ago Wiesel signed the book for me when he came to speak at my college dorm. That book means a lot to me.

And I want it to mean a lot to others, too. I’m glad so many people will be reading it now that it’s received the giant “O” stamp of approval. But I’m not happy to have Wiesel’s name placed alongside that of a certain someone else (Mr. Frey, for those of you who can’t guess), almost as if to loan Frey (and his benefactor) the protection of Wiesel’s experience and reputation. I’m even less happy to have people lump Night with Frey’s fiction and question how “true” Wiesel’s story is.

Again, I’m not going to go on about this. There’s plenty of good coverage around, and so far I’m particularly keen on (most of) what’s being posted over at GalleyCat. In particular, I recommend for further reading:

Blake Eskin’s Nextbook feature


TIME Magazine’s “10 Questions for Elie Wiesel”.

L’Affaire James Frey

A few people have asked me what I think about the current literary scandals, particularly the memoir-oriented James Frey case. Actually, a few of those who asked did so admitting they could already guess my take on it. They know I’ve never had much patience for what I consider nontruth in nonfiction. And by the way, I still consider memoir a sub-genre of nonfiction, with all nonfiction’s attendant characteristics, rewards, and responsibilities.

Maybe that explains, in part, why I really haven’t wanted to take on l’Affaire Frey myself. And maybe today’s Publishers Lunch summarizes even more clearly why I haven’t focused on the subject here: “It would be an understatement to say there is an abundance of stories on James Frey, his Larry King appearance last night, and Oprah’s dramatic last-minute blessing of the ’emotional truth’ of however it is that he told his tale. We presume that if you’re interested, there’s little new we can tell you, just as our subjective assumption is that you’ve probably already formed a firm opinion on the matter.”

Yes. Which isn’t to say that I won’t comment later, once I’ve had more time to think about all this. Maybe I’ll decide I have something original/potentially new and interesting and enlightening to contribute. I’m also looking forward to Mary Karr’s editorial on the subject, which, according to today’s PW Daily, is in the works.

But for the moment, I’m confident that you’re following the news yourself. In the unlikely event that you aren’t, here are just a few recommended readings:

A transcript of last night’s Larry King Live Interview with James Frey;

An editorial published in the Los Angeles Times;

And though it’s dated (from 2003), this article, “Memoirs: The Novel Approach to Facts”, published in The Age, is also highly relevant.


Here are two articles/commentaries from today’s New York Times with which wholly agree. You’ll need to register to read the full pieces; registration is free.

1) Randy Kennedy’s “My True Story, More or Less, and Maybe Not at All,” which appears on the cover page of the “Week in Review” section.

2) Mary Karr’s op-ed, “His So-Called Life”.