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Letters About Literature National Winners 2007

National Winner, Level 3: Amber Jin

Dear Elie Wiesel,

Your memoir, Night, provided a look at the experiences under the brutality and atrocities of Nazi Germany on a level distinct from all other works I have read before. It is perhaps the raw truth behind the words that stood out to me the most, and it has forced me to examine my perceptions of the world as well as my approach to life.

While I have been through my share of obstacles, they certainly do not compare to the horrific experiences you have endured. The only similarity exists in the force of love that has helped us through these obstacles. The courage and heartfelt sacrifices of you and your father touched me on a personal level, reminding me of my luck at having a similar figure in my life.

My mother had left our homeland, China, to start over in the United States in hopes of giving me all the opportunities at a better future. Alone, without the comfort of family or familiarity, she labored for three years before finally being able to bring me here to join her. She has created opportunities with her sweat and tears and continues to this day to toil in the face of financial among other difficulties. My grandfather, who is battling prostate cancer, resides in China, far out of reach of her care. Torn between maternal love and concern towards her father, she has nonetheless remained strong and determined, never letting me see her falter and supporting me wholeheartedly in pursuing my dreams.

Upon reading your experiences, I began evaluating my relationship with my mother. Previously, my preoccupation has centered mostly on school and my teenage bubble of the world. I was forced to look back on my journey, realizing that any reciprocated consideration or sacrifices for my mom have been few and almost insignificant. Was I really this shallow? In your memoir, you spoke of sons abandoning fathers and fathers abandoning sons and the courage that seems to abandon most, if not all in the camps. I had to ask myself if I would have the courage to "never to do what Rabbi Eliahou's son had done." At first I was confused and shocked at my silence to the question. Perhaps it takes reality to truly be sure of these things, but I was appalled at my inability to assert that "yes, I would." Then I thought about my mother, and what she would do. This time I was sure of the answer. She would. My mother would have the courage to face whatever odds for me; my mother's love would triumph over all.

I first read your memoir in tenth grade English class. I was turning sixteen. I was fed, clothed, given every comfort our situation could afford. I had my mother who loved me more than anything in the world, and yet, I tended too overlook all of that sometimes. I cannot say what I read, viewed, and in some inexplicable way lived in Night has reversed my faults. I wish I could say that I no longer take anything for granted, or that I have since become the perfect daughter. Instead, I can only say Night has changed my approach to life and relationships and has brought about a depth of self reflection and awareness (for lack of a better term) than I have ever ventured to seek.

In retrospect, I was perhaps as afraid to face my imperfections as blinded by naïve superficiality. It was difficult admitting that I could not stand up in unquestionable defense when my courage and love was called into question. Even in the comforts of my bedroom where the horrors of the Holocaust existed only in the reality of the pages, I could not give an answer satisfactory to my own perceived righteousness and moral and emotional convictions. And there I was, before all of this, believing in the undefeatable strength of my convictions and values. The question was haunting: would my virtues, in its state of youthful obstinacy withstand the evils of human nature and the terrors of perpetual sleep? But I've come to realize that I needn't have an answer, ready on the defensive. I need only recognize fears, uncertainties, and imperfections, because it is only through first accepting their existence that they can be eventually overcome.

In recognizing the courage it took to survive and recount this experience, I offer my deepest admiration and respect. I write to express the depth of my experience in reading your memoir; it took me out of my comfort zone and brought me face to face with myself, flaws, fears and all. Your courage and honesty in speaking to the world has inspired in me the courage and honesty to face my world. Thank you.

Amber Jin