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Winfrey book club pick: Fact or fiction?

Amazon.Com changes the category of the novel Night from novel to memoir.

india Updated: Jan 19, 2006 17:33 IST

Online U.S. retailer Amazon.com said Tuesday it was changing its categorization of Oprah Winfrey's new book club pick, Elie Wiesel's Night, from novel to memoir- just after the talk show host's previous pick has drawn criticism for blending fact and fiction.

Amazon.com said it was also revising the editorial description of a previous text edition to make clear that it considers the book a memoir, not a novel.

"We hope to make these changes as quickly as possible," said spokeswoman Jani Strand.

Wiesel did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

On Monday, Winfrey announced that Wiesel's classic account of his family's placement in the Auschwitz death camp was her latest choice. Night quickly topped the best seller list on Amazon.com, displacing Winfrey's previous selection, James Frey's drug memoir A Million Little Pieces.

Frey's story of substance abuse has been widely disputed, with the author acknowledging that he had embellished parts of the book, as reported by the U.S. investigative Web site, The Smoking Gun. Frey and Winfrey have defended A Million Little Pieces, saying any factual problems were transcended by the book's emotional power. No such allegations are being made about Night, but there has long been confusion over how to label it. While Wiesel and his U.S. publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, call it a memoir, Night is frequently listed as fiction on course syllabuses and is described in an Amazon.com editorial review as "technically a novel," albeit so close to Wiesel's life that "it's generally- and not inaccurately- read as an autobiography."

Wiesel first wrote the book in the 1950s in Yiddish, then translated it into French. Hill & Wang, which Farrar, Straus now owns, published the original English-language edition in 1960. Wiesel's wife, Marion Wiesel, has translated the current English version.

Amazon.com has been categorizing the new edition of Night under "fiction and literature," but is switching the book to "biography and memoir."

Meanwhile, Amazon's editorial description of an earlier edition is being edited "to make it explicitly clear that Night is nonfiction," Strand said.

Ruth Wisse, a professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard University, says Wiesel's book is often labeled fiction because of the book's sophisticated narrative style, which resembles a novel.

Karen Hall, who has taught a course on the "Literature of Trauma" at Syracuse University, calls Night a "trauma narrative" and says such books are unavoidably subjective. She regards the book as a novel and plans to keep doing so. "For me, then, Night is 100 percent true in its call to readers to remember the Holocaust, listen to and learn from its survivors, and never to allow such an event to take place again," Hall says.

"That Wiesel would prefer it to be called a memoir doesn't impact my understanding of the text, as once it has left the author's desk, it is the reader's to work with."

First Published: Jan 18, 2006 19:35 IST