I was a sophomore in college when I read Night, Eli Weisel’s searing account of Auschwitz. I finished the slim paperback in one sitting, promptly threw it across my dorm room in disgust, and began to weep angrily. I had learned about the Holocaust in high school history class, had seen the images of skeletal men with shaved heads and Nazi’s goosestepping and Hitler waving his fist and spitting out incomprehensible words, but I had never understood the deliberate, systematic nature of the persecution and murder of so many millions of people.

My earlier understanding of World War II was as an inevitability, like a tornado or earthquake, a thing that can’t be prevented and can’t be stopped–one can only lament over the destruction it leaves behind. The reality of World War II was that it had taken the participation and compliance of many people, each choosing, sometimes on a daily basis, to do terrible and destructive things.

When I finished reading Katherine Boo’s Behind the beautiful forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, a very different, modern human tragedy, I wept as well, but it was less out of anger than sadness. I didn’t know who or what to be angry at, exactly. Read the rest of this entry »