There are many varieties of books in this world, but they fall into three simple categories for me. The first category contains the books that I really enjoy that are funny and/or interesting. It is a vast array with a broad spectrum of subjects. The second is somewhat smaller and contains books that I do not like or that are inappropriate. I fear that this category will only grow bigger with time since a lot of inappropriate things are written. The third category is the smallest yet, although it too shows possibility for growth. These books are the few that prompt a deep emotional response that resonates in my soul like a beautiful piece of music.
The Violin of Auschwitz falls into the last category. It joins books like Sarah’s Key, The Time Keeper, and Pride and Prejudice. Written by Maria Angels Anglada and translated by Martha Tennent, The Violin of Auschwitz is centered around a beautiful violin as a symbol of hope and survival. The book is a work of historical fiction, and is set during the Holocaust in the camps located at Auschwitz. Two words sum up how I feel about this book: Devastatingly Wonderful.
Daniel is a Jewish luthier, or violin and viola maker. When he is rounded up to be taken to Auschwitz a desperate thought makes him give his occupation as carpenter. A carpenter is much more useful than a luthier, and he feels this gives him a chance to survive. One day as he is leaving his assigned work in the Commander’s house he hears violin music and pauses to listen. Suddenly the violin makes a dreadful noise and the Commander begins to get angry at the violin player. Without thinking, Daniel speaks up that it isn’t the musician’s fault because the violin is cracked.
His secret is out, and it profoundly changes his life as well as the life of the musician. To prove that he is a luthier the Commander demands that he repair the violin. When he does Daniel cautions that it will happen again eventually since he didn’t have the appropriate tools. A few days later he is called to the Commander’s office and told that he will be taken off the carpenter crew. Instead he is given the charge to build a violin as fine as a Stradivarius.
Before the incident Daniel had slowly been losing himself in the cruelty of the concentration camp where he was treated as an animal or a number and never a man. When he begins the task of constructing the violin Daniel is recalled to himself. He remembers who he is and finds the will to live, to survive, for only then can he win.
The book touches on the horror of the camps just enough to make the idea of crafting of the violin an incredible act of beauty. It becomes a symbol of hope and survival for Daniel and Bronislaw, the musician who will have to play it. In crafting the violin Daniel is able to push the present far enough away that he can endure the other hours of his days.
Even building the violin is tinged with horror when he and Bronislaw discover that their fate hinges on the completion of the violin. The Commander and the doctor have a bet on it. If Daniel completes it within a certain period then the doctor will owe the Commander a case of burgundy wine. If he is too slow then the doctor gets Daniel to use in his experiments, experiments that no one survives.
The violin is “the glimmer of light among of all that misery” that they endure. I don’t want to ruin the book for anyone so I won’t mention more of the plot, but it really is an amazing book. It is a must read since it is the kind of book that makes readers reflect and think long after they have finished reading.
How will you react to the darkest days you will face? Will you create something of beauty? Or will you lose your humanity? These are the kinds of questions this book raises.
This book deals with the Holocaust so it is not really a comfortable read. It contains situations that are harsh, and yet it has a poetic beauty unmarred by foul language (at least that I can remember). There are some disturbing scenes, but they aren’t sexual in nature.
This is a book I hope my children will read when they are older.