Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Violin of Auschwitz, by Maria Angels Anglada

There is something about the literature the resulted from the Holocaust that is always a draw for me.  I think it’s a combination of the utter horror of the situation, and yet the need to find a redeeming scrap of humanity in it.  My latest read, The Violin of Auschwitz, by Maria Angels Anglada, was able to provide that balance in the situation, and the result is a wonderful little story about finding beauty in a horrible situation.

The Violin of Auschwitz is the story of Daniel, a Polish Jew who was sent to one of the Auschwitz satellite camps during the Second World War.  Though he was a violin maker, when the camp guards asked him what his profession was, he told them he was a carpenter.  This lie found him working in the camp Commander’s home and, when he repaired a violin that was being used at a party for the Commander he was given the task of building a new violin for the Commander’s collection.  Daniel’s story is about the struggles to create something beautiful in the ugly world he finds himself in.

Maria Angels Anglada is a Catalan author of note, and so the version of The Violin of Auschwitz that I read was a translation by Martha Tennent.  Like a lot of translations of literature I’ve read, I found the language and sentence structure that was used to be a bit distracting from the story as it didn’t flow as naturally as it could have.  Because of this, I find it hard to comment on Anglada’s writing style; I’m not sure what’s her and what’s the translator, or who created the problem(s).

As for commenting on the characters, I don’t feel I can really do that either.  This book is short – it’s just over 100 pages, and it jumps between various people in modern-day Europe and the camp.  Because it’s so short, there’s no real chance for character development; Daniel seems nice enough, as does his friend Bronislaw, but we know nothing of who they were before the war, and very little of who they are after.  As for the other characters, they are even less known to the reader.

All in all, I think the purpose of this book was two fold; first, to give the reader an idea of what the daily life of the prisoners in the concentration camps was like in it’s repetitive nature and the all-encompassing terror the inmate experiences, and second, to show that humanity didn’t desert everyone when those camps were founded – it may have been the goal of the Nazis to destroy the humanity of their victims, but the desire for beauty is an intrinsic human element that can’t be destroyed until the very end of a life.

So, final verdict?  I would say read this book.  It’s a quick read, but it’s important that we are constantly reminding ourselves the horrors of the past to ensure they are never repeated.  More, The Violin of Auschwitz is a beautiful story of human endurance in the face of unimaginable cruelty.  

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