In her first book club pick since allegations that some parts of her last selection were fabricated, Oprah Winfrey chose Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” a classic of Holocaust literature sometimes labeled a novel but regarded by the author as a memoir.
On her show Monday, Winfrey announced the selection of Wiesel’s autobiographical account. The 77-year-old Wiesel, who wrote “Night” in the 1950s, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for a lifetime of writing and speaking against hatred, racism and genocide.
“Night” is Wiesel’s chronicle of his family’s placement in the Auschwitz death camp, and was his first of more than 40 books, essays and plays. An accomplished work of prose, the book has often been called a novel, including by the study guide CliffsNotes. But Wiesel’s foundation labels it a memoir, as does the book’s publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
The book club on Winfrey’s popular television show has meant huge sales for selected titles. By Monday night, a paperback edition of “Night” was No. 1 on Amazon.com, displacing Winfrey’s controversial previous pick, “A Million Little Pieces.”
James Frey’s memoir of substance abuse has drawn criticism over detailed allegations that the author fabricated some parts, including a three-month prison stint that apparently never happened. He has acknowledged some alterations, but defended the “essential truth” of the book as a story of addiction.
Winfrey reaffirmed her support last week of Frey’s book when she phoned in to “Larry King Live” at the end of an hour-long interview with Frey and dismissed questions about the book as “much ado about nothing.” Winfrey did not mention Frey’s book on Monday’s show.
In announcing her selection of “Night,” Winfrey referred to the King Day holiday.
“Like Dr. King, I have a dream of my own, too, that the powerful message of this little book would be engraved on every human heart and will never be forgotten again. That you who read this book will feel as I do that these 120 pages ... should be required reading for all humanity,” she said.
Winfrey also said she plans to travel with Wiesel to Auschwitz next month, and her show will have a high school essay contest on Wiesel’s book. Fifty winners will be flown to Chicago, where her show is based, for a taping with the author, Winfrey said.
In a 2002 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Wiesel recalled that “Night,” written in Yiddish in the 1950s, translated into French and then English, attracted little notice at first. “The English translation came out in 1960, and the first printing was 3,000 copies,” he said. “And it took three years to sell them. Now, I get 100 letters a month from children about the book. And there are many, many million copies in print.”
In one passage, he sums up his feelings upon arrival in Auschwitz:
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. ... Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”