La Nuit by Elie Wiesel
Wow. That was not an easy read. This book is about the author’s experience during the Holocaust starting when he was just 15 years old. I’ve read, in the distant past, other books about these events, so I knew what I was getting into, but being an adult and a mother, it was high time that I read a book like La Nuit. I hate watching the news, preferring to read my headlines on feedly.com, and I rarely watch movies that aren’t comedy. For me, life is sad and hard enough without adding any sort of negative sentiment to my escapism. My favorite advice that I read during pregnancy was to stop watching the news altogether and I’ve never looked back! However, learning about history, the atrocities of the human race, has a valuable role in any education. I had originally thought to teach the whole novel to my French 5 class, but I think that I would prefer to handle excerpts with both French 5 and AP. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t deal well with sadness in the classroom, so the full treatment of this text is better left to other teachers. But there are some passages that work well with two AP themes: la quête de soi and les défis mondiaux, naturally.
When looking for pictures to use with this post, I found a veritable gold mine of teacher resources on pinterest if you’re teaching this novel in an English class. I thought about reading a post or two, but decided to stick with my own ideas, especially since I’m using La Nuit in a French conversation classroom. So if you need more ideas, check out pinterest!
For my students, we will proceed as follows:
The first chapters are quite long, so I wouldn’t read any of them in their entirety, but I think that the story of Moshé-le-Bedeau is worth sharing (pages 35 to 41 or 43) perhaps as an additional reading for La famille et la communauté, because no one believes the horror story that Moshé-le-Bedeau shares upon his return to the town after imprisonment and near execution. I would like to ask students why no one believes him and if anything similar has happened in their lifetime, a story that they couldn’t believe either on a personal or global level.
In chapter 3, there is the passage in which the author presents what he will never forget about that night, the smoke, the children, the flames that consume his faith, the silence, the horrors of his existence (pages 78 and 79). This would be a good time to discuss faith, beliefs, religion, and how that can make us who we are in the quête de soi theme of the AP curriculum. Actually, chapter 5 has quite a bit about religion and doubt that could be added to that first section. I would read at least until page 130 in that chapter to give students some context and a better idea of what is happening in the author’s life.
The story of the French girl is in chapter 4, starting on page 106 to 109 and that could tie in well to a theme of friendship, or world problems, depending on which theme you’d like to discuss. Elie works alongside a young “Aryan” woman who comforts him once in German after he’s been severely beaten by a guard. Years later, living in Paris, he sees her in the metro and they talk about their time together in the work camp. Hm. Maybe I don’t have much to discuss that reflects the AP themes, but I liked this vignette and finding another example in the text of people keeping their humanity despite the inhumane conditions.
There are two other stories in the book that I would like to use, but I’m not sure how best to fit them into the AP themes. I might just use them with French 5 and perhaps French 4, depending on the interest level of my students. This was a challenging book for me to read (and it seems that it was Oprah’s selection in 2006 for her book club! There are several videos on youtube of her visit with Elie Wiesel and their visit to Auschwitz), but I do recommend it for personal consumption. I’ll let you know how well it works in the classroom in a few more months!