Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman

genre: memoir

As the life of a piano-player goes, Szpilman's was a good one.  He lived in Warsaw with his loving and supportive family, making music and enjoying relationships with other musicians.  And then Poland becomes a part of Nazi Germany and Szpilman's entire world turns upside down in the worst way.  His beloved Warsaw is divided into the "Aryan" side and an extensive Ghetto, which bursts at the seams with the Jewish population of the entire city.  Szpilman watches as everything he knows is slowly and systematically destroyed under the thumb of the Nazis.  Soon, Warsaw is no longer the city he knew and there isn't safety anywhere.

This is an incredible, true story.  Written right after the world, apparently while still in shock, Szpilman writes in first person in a detached and yet brutally honest way.  He explores his own emotions as well as he describes all that happens to him and his family.  There is no overarching plot, nothing he is trying to prove.  It's just his story, his own experience, in all its horrifying detail.  What makes it unique among the books I've read of the time period is that he never leaves Warsaw during the war - he manages to escape the concentration camps all together.  It is astonishing to me how he does it and there were a few twists along the way that make his life really feel like a movie.  As a witness to the atrocities of Warsaw as well as to the resilience of the people of this beleaguered city, The Pianist is a very good read.

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