The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945 Hardcover – Apr 11 2001
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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
From Publishers Weekly
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.
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Top Customer Reviews
The movie piqued my intrest in the Holocaust and also in this incredible man who survived all odds. A few months after I had watched the movie, I went out and bought the book. After I started the book, I could hardly put it down. I finished the book in two days, facing another two sleepless nights, haunted by his passages from Dancing on Chlorea Street, and feeling his emotions as he ran into Captain Wilm Hosenfeld for the first time.
I would recommend this book to anyone, no matter the age. The book is truly haunting and Wladyslaw Szpilman's words and memories are bound to stay with you.
The man playing the piano was Jewish and his name was Wladyslaw Szpilman. He turns out to be one of the few Jewish survivors of the war. To say his music saved him is true, while his family, with him included are about to be shipped off to Treblinka and exterminated, a music loving policeman grabs Wladyslaw from the crowd and thus saves his life, but it is excruciating to Wladyslaw to lose his family. The work to learn how to play the piano to the degree that Wladyslaw did is an extremely long and patience filled road, which I am sure molded Wladyslaw's character and made it possible for him to survive the war. Wladyslaw often retreated into his mind to survive the long hours and days without end, he went over measure by measure music scores in his head. While he starved and lost touch with humanity (if it still existed where he was) he still used his mind and his music training was a blessing. He often contemplated suicide, but never committed the act.
When Warsaw's Jewish ghetto is demolished and Wladyslaw is barely hanging on in hiding a German officer named Wilm Hosenfeld finds him and feeds him and brings him eiderdown and encourages him to hang on. Wladyslaw survives and lives on to write his memoirs for us to read and to study and to learn from.
The diary of Wilm Hosenfeld at the end of Wladyslaw's memoir is intriguing. It is a relief to see a hope in humanity, to read his words and how he felt about his country being at war and what they were doing to the Jews.
The book ends six years later with Wladyslaw playing Chopin's Nocturne in C# Minor. Of 3.5 million Jews at the beginning of the war in Poland only 240,000 remained at the end, Wladyslaw was one of the survivors.
It's deliciously real, Wladyslaw brings you inside hell and out with him, nothing artificial added to the trip, just him, telling about his life, with some detachment but a flawless logic.
The thing is that when a book is so simple, it is easy to travel, you will be in Warsaw with him at the time instantaneously.
I have read some holocaust books, they all have this guilty and painful nature, but in this one everything feels so crude and simple, there is a difference to it, because he wrote it just after the war had ended, not decades later.
So you get to see human nature, a courageous man that even in the worse of the cases was thankful for the many simple things life had to offer, not a hero, not a character, a human being that when is confronted to the worst finds no other than to deal with it, with an uttermost discipline and faith in his own sixth sense. It was really a treat, I recommend it plainly
The degree of hope that Szpilman has is displayed in many instances. One remarkable moment in the memoir occurs when Wladyslaw is being supervised by the Germans while working in the cold. Being so small he is worried about not being able to perform the work properly which could consequently lead to his death. However, the amazing thing about the situation is that he is more worried about his fingers freezing up in the brutally cold weather. His hope throughout the entire book is that he will someday be able to run his fingers across a piano again and play the music that he once loved. This is truly an inspirational moment in the novel that proves his continuous hope in the future.
Another element of the story that I appreciated was that throughout the entire novel Szpilman never expressed hatred for the German people. Not to say that he held no discontent with the way things were, but he in no way droned upon the fact. He told the story the way it was, and that meant exposing the atrocities of the Germans but not relying on the element to carry the novel. He told a story of survival, one that focused on his life and how he found the courage to make it where so many others had fallen.
Most recent customer reviews
As probably one of the few who has never seen the movie, I was a little embarassed to be so late to the party to read The Pianist. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Craig Jenkins
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
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