The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Angels Anglada
|The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Angels Anglada|
|Genre: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A short piece, but well worthwhile all the same, with a man forced to create beauty in the midst of ugliness.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 128||Date: November 2010|
In Poland in the early 1990s, a violin sings. The maestro who owns it produces such a music from it, people are forced to take note. They'd be even more amazed if she could bring herself to state exactly how the instrument came to be. For this was the work of Daniel, suffering in a subsidiary camp to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Stumbles, chances, half-lies, all conspire to allow Daniel to take time off his enforced labour and engage in his real-world career. But is there a price to pay in doing something you love, just for a man you can only hate?
When I walked the railway sidings at Birkenau I found myself lambasting the Nazis for the great irregularity in the pattern of the sleepers under the tracks. A very odd thing to be thinking there, I know, but any study of the camps will tell you they did not have a Germanic uniformity. There is a random aspect to life here - your fate dependant on so many people as a camp inmate, from the generosity or mistakes of your fellow sufferers up to the Kommandant. And some of those did love to surround themselves with greenery, music and musicians. The unnamed 'enemy' here rings perfectly true, just as does every aspect of camp life. You do need to believe this violin-maker was dogged enough, and well-equipped enough, for such a singular instrument to come from his situation.
A touch less satisfactory for me was the framing material, that of the rediscovery of the violin and what that leads to. The first body of it feels too tricksy in setting up multiple narrative strands, and the second too wrapped up in delaying a reveal as if this were a thriller. It's not - it's purely a novella, and one that can seem somewhat padded.
But in the way of the best short stories and novelettes, it focuses principally on a couple of things. The plot successfully takes us from the misery of Daniel through beginning and ending making the violin. And it is also successful in showing how, despite the ordeal, with a craftsman like Daniel, tenacity is not solely the preserve of those too-random Nazis.
Finally, I loved the fact this is a piece from a Catalan author - one of apparent note, but who died over a decade before this saw translation to English. Proof, then, that the Holocaust, however much it struck central and eastern Europe primarily, is a worldwide event for anyone anywhere with suitable talent to take it on board. So, in Spain, in the mid 1990s, a novella sang. It sang of hope, pride, craftsmanship, and culture in the face of evil. It doesn't make for a lengthy tune, or one that is perfectly sustained, but I'm glad I finally heard it.
I must thank Corsair and their fine people for my review copy.
There is a slight fable tinge to the story here, which many people saw in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.
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