The Violin of Auschwitz by Maria Angels Anglada is a work so beautiful it will haunt many readers for a lifetime. The
hour and a half it will take you to read this book might well be the best experience you will have this month. Set in one of the ugliest places ever created, the Auschwitz death camp in Poland in 1941, Anglada shows us how remembrance of the beauty of art and of love can sustain us through very dark times.
The story opens in 1991 at a classical music concert in Krakow, Poland. The narrator, a musician traveling in Eastern Europe, met and was enchanted by a female violinist from the concert. She is twenty years his senior. He takes her out to dinner and they bond over their love of music. He makes arrangements through his agent for her to join in his four person group on a short tour. He notices an elegant violin she plays and she begins to tell him the story of how the violin came to be created.
It is 1941, Daniel has just arrived, in a train with other deportees, most all Polish Jews, at Auschwitz. Upon arrival people are divided into two groups, those felt not able to work as too old, under fourteen are sent at once to be executed
They are lead to believe it is for a shower. Daniel, a violin
maker, a luthier, when asked his occupation says “Cabinet Maker”, thinking that may keep him alive. He is assigned to make shelves and cabinets for the sadistic, cultivated camp commandant. Four inmate classical musicians are playing at a party. One of the violins is damaged and Daniel tells the musician, they stay in the same barracks, that he can fix it and he does. The camp commandant hears of this and he tells David he is to make a violin for him. Daniel knows as long as he is working on the violin he will be safe from punishment or harsh physical labor. He finds out the commandant and his sadistic doctor friend, modelled on the horrible Josef Mengele, have made a bet involving him. If he can produce a quality violin the doctor will give the commandant a case of wine, if he cannot, he will be sent to the lab of the doctor for experiments testing how long one can be immersed in freezing water and survive, a death sentence.
I don’t want to reveal the close but I cannot imagine anyone not loving it.
In a very interesting touch, included in the chapter
beginnings are actual translations of manuals and reports from Auschwitz, treating it as the very profitable enterprise it was. The last chapter will, I think, very much move most readers. I felt a powerful sense of joy and relief as I read the closing chapter.
This book is suitable for young adult readers but will resonate with the most cultured of readers.
I’m seeing this as excellent book for teachers to use for advanced high school readers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR MARIA ÀNGELS ANGLADA (1930–99) is one of the most important figures of Catalan twentieth-century literature. Her success as an author was confirmed in 1978 when she was awarded the Josep Pla Prize for her first novel, Les Closes. She subsequently became one of the most respected and widely read of all Catalan authors, with works such as No em dic Laura, L’agent del Rei, and El violí d’Auschwitz.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR MARTHA TENNENT, a translator from Catalan and Spanish, was born in the United States, but has lived most of her life in Barcelona, receiving her B.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Barcelona. She recently edited Training for the New Millennium: Pedagogies for Translation and Interpreting and has translated the novels Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda and The Invisible City by Emili Rosales.