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Written immediately after the end of World War II, this morally complex Holocaust memoir is notable for its exact depiction of the grim details of life in Warsaw under the Nazi occupation. "Things you hardly noticed before took on enormous significance: a comfortable, solid armchair, the soothing look of a white-tiled stove," writes Wladyslaw Szpilman, a pianist for Polish radio when the Germans invaded. His mother's insistence on laying the table with clean linen for their midday meal, even as conditions for Jews worsened daily, makes palpable the Holocaust's abstract horror. Arbitrarily removed from the transport that took his family to certain death, Szpilman does not deny the "animal fear" that led him to seize this chance for escape, nor does he cheapen his emotions by belaboring them. Yet his cool prose contains plenty of biting rage, mostly buried in scathing asides (a Jewish doctor spared consignment to "the most wonderful of all gas chambers," for example). Szpilman found compassion in unlikely people, including a German officer who brought food and warm clothing to his hiding place during the war's last days. Extracts from the officer's wartime diary (added to this new edition), with their expressions of outrage at his fellow soldiers' behavior, remind us to be wary of general condemnation of any group. --Wendy Smith
Originally published in Poland in 1945 but then suppressed by the Communist authorities, this memoir of survival in the Warsaw Ghetto joins the ranks of Holocaust memoirs notable as much for their literary value as for their historical significance. Szpilman, a Jewish classical pianist, played the last live music broadcast from Warsaw before Polish Radio went off the air in September 1939 because of the German invasion. In a tone that is at once dispassionate and immediate, Szpilman relates the horrors of life inside the ghetto. But his book is distinguished by the dazzling clarity he brings to the banalities of ghetto life, especially the eerie normalcy of some social relations amid catastrophic upheaval. He shows how Jewish residents of the Polish capital adjusted to life under the occupation: "The armbands branding us as Jews did not bother us, because we were all wearing them, and after some time living in the ghetto I realized that I had become thoroughly used to them." Using a reporter's powers of description, Szpilman, who is still alive at the age of 88, records the chilling conversations that took place as Jews waited to be transported to their deaths. "We're not heroes!" he recalls his father saying. "We're perfectly ordinary people, which is why we prefer to risk hoping for that 10 per cent chance of living." In a twist that exemplifies how this book will make readers look again at a history they thought they knew, he details how a German captain saved his life. Employing language that has more in common with the understatement of Primo Levi than with the moral urgency of Elie Wiesel, Szpilman is a remarkably lucid observer and chronicler of how, while his family perished, he survived thanks to a combination of resourcefulness and chance. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This is one of those WW2 books that should be read by everyone to gain an appreciation for the lives that we all live today. Read morePublished on May 29 2013 by TG
I am a student at Hunterdon Central Regional Highschool in Flemington New Jersey. My Critical Issues in Literature was coerced into picking books to read, or else we would be... Read morePublished on June 7 2004 by Jon A. C.
This book is about a real survival story in World War II. Although the author himself was not a professional writer, this cruel and dramatic history really doesn't need any kind of... Read morePublished on April 30 2004
Its been years since I have read such a lovely and complete book. A story albeit very poignant and gripping offers so much more. Read morePublished on March 12 2004 by m
Anyone who has been moved by the brilliant movie of the same name, will not fail to be overcome by this remarkable, written account of the extraordinary survival of Wladyslaw... Read morePublished on Feb. 28 2004 by M. D Roberts
That's all one can say about this book. So much tragedy is packed into so little space but what's in those 187 pages will make you rethink about the little things in life we take... Read morePublished on Jan. 19 2004 by Donna Di Giacomo