BOOK REVIEW: The Pianist – by Władysław Szpilman

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Title: The Pianist
Author: Władysław Szpilman
Genre: Non Fiction, WWII, History, Memoir
First published: 1946
Finished reading: March 12th 2014
Pages: 224
(Originally written in Polish: Śmierć Miasta)

Rating 5

“And now I was lonelier, I supposed, than anyone else in the world. Even Defoe’s creation, Robinson Crusoe, the prototype of the ideal solitary, could hope to meet another human being. Crusoe cheered himself by thinking that such a thing could happen any day, and it kept him going. But if any of the people now around me came near I would need to run for it and hide in mortal terror. I had to be alone, entirely alone, if I wanted to live.”

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How to rate a book that contains such a tragic and above all true story of a man who survived the Holocaust against all odds? A story about a Jewish pianist who unsuccesfully tried to save his family, resisted the Nazi’s and managed to stay alive under impossible conditions during the Second World War… It is incredible how a human being is capable of dealing with such an amount of physical and mental torture, and I have great respect for both Wladyslaw Szpilman and all other victims of the Holocaust. What makes his story even more special is that it was written right after the war in 1946, while other works appeared only many years after. Not long after Szpilman published his story, the Polish government tried to ‘hide’ the evidence of the terrible facts and his story wasn’t republished until the nineties. If you haven’t read The Pianist yet, I suggest you do. It gives you a great impression on how it was like for the Jews during the Second World War.

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Wladyslaw Szpilman is a gifted pianist who plays for the Polish radio and he is known by many. He is also a Jew and forced to live in the ghetto with his family when the Germans take over Warsaw. Szpilman shows us the deteriorating situation within the ghetto. The people are living under the mercy of the German soldiers, who appear not to have any of that mercy left and kill people at random. The situation becomes more violent every day and soon transports to supposedly work camps are to be taken place. But in fact they are transports to the infamous gas chambers, and Szpilman wasn’t able to save his family from that same horrendous fate.

Being a populair pianist he was able to save himself though. He escaped and with the help of various faithful friends he hid successfully from the Germans. He had to change his hiding place various times, and it seemed that his intuition saved his life more than once. Being on the border of death, Szpilman actually tried to commit suicide once with the reason that he prefered taking strong sleeping pills over falling into the hands of the Germans. But fortunately for him the pills weren’t strong enough to kill him, even though his body was weak from the lack of food and the terrible situation he was in for so long already. He managed to escape yet again and found another place to hide. In that last hiding place is where two unlikely people met, a person who would save Szpilman’s life for a last time before the war was over. A German officer named Wilm Hosenfeld discovered him at the house Szpilman was hiding, but decided to save his life and even provided him with food and prevented him freezing to death.

Pieces of Wilm’s journal are included into the memoir of the pianist, and show us a different angle of the German officers. Hosenfeld doesn’t approve with the situation at all, but isn’t able to do anything about it by himself. He did save various Jews from their terrible fate though, and Szpilman was one of them. Unfortunately the Soviets caught Hosenfeld towards the end of the war and still imprisoned he died a few years later. Szpilman tried to get him free, but was never able to locate the man that helped him survive…

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The Pianist is a very strong read and without doubt recommended to those who are interested in the Second World War and Jewish memoirs. Szpilman‘s story is both heartbreaking and mindblowing, and one of my favorite reads this year. Don’t forget to watch the movie version directed by Roman Polanski if you haven’t; it is just as powerful as the novel!

BOOK REVIEW: To Kill A Mockingbird – by Harper Lee

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Title: To Kill A Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Genre: Classics, Historical Fiction, YA
First published: July 11th 1960
Finished reading: February 10th 2014
Pages: 287
Rating 4,5

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

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I know that many people consider To Kill A Mockingbird to be a classic, so I thought it was about time to read it. The novel is set in Maycomb Alabama during the Depression, and tells us the story of the Finches and what happens in their town. Harper Lee shows us a variety of significant themes important during the Depression and in Southern United States in her novel including racism and social classes. Every family in Maycomb has its own history and class, and are to behave according to that class… Scout for example is a rather boyish girl who doesn’t like dresses, but her aunt is trying to force her to behave more lady-like anyway. In Atticus we see the struggle for justice and change… Although the man accused of rape, Tom, doesn’t get free, Atticus still continues to fight for what he thinks is right. To Kill A Mockingbird is a powerful novel with beautiful prose that will definitely leave its mark. Recommended!

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Atticus Finch lives in a small town in the Southern United States of the 1930s, a place where race and class are still important factors to determine your social status. He is a lawyer that decides to defend a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. In the eyes of the white population the man is already guilty, but Atticus wants to defend him anyway. He is struggling to find justice, but most of the town is full of prejudice or prefers to look away. His two children will soon find out the hard way what it’s like to live in the South during the Great Depression… And what the consequences are of race and class problematics.

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To Kill A Mockingbird is a powerful story and definitely worth reading. We can see the two young Finch children growing up and trying to understand what happens in their world. The whole story is told through the eyes of the young Scout, which is an interesting point-of-view… The novel also questions both racism and shows us the discrimination, inequality and injustice affecting the colored inhabitants of Maycomb. If you like historical fiction and are interesting in this subject, make sure you read this classic!