The Auschwitz Violin – Maria Angels Anglada

There are some books that seem to follow me. I haven’t lost the plot honestly; we’ve all been here surely? You are taking a daily quick nip into a bookstore and a book you haven’t heard of until then catches your eye, you kind of want to read it but you aren’t sure (maybe it’s the subject matter, maybe it just isn’t what you want right there and then) so you leave it for the time being. This then becomes the book you start to see the moment you walk through any bookstore after. ‘The Auschwitz Violin’ By Maria Angels Anglada was such a book; it kept enticing me with its cover and title, yet as I knew it would be about Auschwitz I worried it wouldn’t be for me. So when I then saw it in the library it seemed like fate and so I thought ‘what’s better than to borrow it’ and so I did.

Corsair Books, hardback, 2010, fiction, 128 pages, translated by Martha Tennant, borrowed from the library

The novel/novella opens in 1991 when a musician sees a woman playing the most perfect pitched violin. Yet when he meets her and asks her how she came to own such an exquisite instrument he soon learns that the history of this violin in a much darker one hence the title of this book being ‘The Auschwitz Violin’ and it is in that very setting that we learn how Daniel, an imprisoned Jew, came to make the violin in such circumstances and what happened after.

“Daniel had been released from the prison cell two days before, yet for some reason this day seemed more interminable than the previous one. A profound weariness was rising in him, a sense of impending fatality and desperation. He recognised the signs: he had seen fellow lager inmates grow ill, letting themselves sink into death. They now lay beneath the surrounding hills. He was younger than the ones who had embraced death, and he tried to cheer himself, hoped for the strength to continue struggling another day. He felt completely drained when he reached the barracks, he had no wish to talk, only to rest.”  

You know when you start a book with ‘Auschwitz’ in the title that this is not going to be a comfortable read by its very nature, in fact a publisher or author putting it in the title is doing something quite risky as many people might veer away from it for that reason. It was this that did put me off reading ‘The Auschwitz Violin’ initially yet I do think we need to remember the atrocities of the holocaust and I am a firm believer that reading shouldn’t always be comfortable and so I opened the first page.

From the very opening of the book ‘The Auschwitz Violin’ was rather different to other books with its themes I have read before, well fictional accounts anyway. As, apart from the last couple, each chapter opens with an original document from or about the camps at Auschwitz. Obviously you know anyone writing about this subject is going to have done their research, it isn’t so common for them to then leave the documents in the actual finished work itself. In this case it both works really well and also lets the book down to a degree.

It works in a powerful way as it adds to the impact of what happened to the people in these concentration camps, some of the case notes included described experiments that I had never heard of and left me feeling shocked that such things happened. There was impact from these instantly. Yet because the documents come before the narrative and describe what is about to happen to people surrounding Daniel, or indeed to Daniel himself, when they do there is less of an impact, there’s almost too much pre-showing before the telling.  There is also a slight sense that the story has been created around the fact, something which obviously happens a lot in fiction and yet normally you can’t spot the way its been worked in – here I could.

You would think these documents make you fear for Daniel and the other prisoners and yet they don’t, they almost work like spoilers instead. I could see what the author was doing, but it wasn’t quite working. It could be this that left me with a feeling that I was never really with Daniel and always somewhat distanced from all the events that unfolded. I don’t think it was the narrative or the writing of Angels Anglada as the prose was sparse and minimal but not to the point I shouldn’t have been able to enter the world or so sparse there was no atmophere because there was. Despite all the ingredients something wasn’t quite clicking, it almost seemed too factual and I think its length added to the feeling that it was a report of some kind in its own way rather than a fully fledged story and for me the story factor was lacking here.

‘The Auschwitz Violin’ seemed to want to highlight something awful and yet couldn’t fully take me thereand I think in part its the style but also the length.  I came way thinking it was an interesting and well written book, but I wasn’t as moved as I could have been yet I was glad I read it. This is a very similar feeling I had to the book ‘The Report’ by Jessica Francis Kane which I read last year about an accident during the Blitz, though something clicked at the end and I was sold, it might be the fact I had more pages to lose myself in it all. I thought it was brilliantly written (and well translated), yet I was never quite in there and lost in the atmosphere one hundred percent.

Has anyone else had this feeling with a book about something tragic before, because it worries me slightly? I have come away feeling a little heartless because I was horrified and yet with the distance I wasn’t thoroughly moved and I should have been.  It’s a book I now want all of you to read to see how you feel about it (and apparently, and I can’t quite believe I am about to support the ‘K’ word, it’s only £1.99 on the Kindle at the moment so you could all try it  – or pop to your library/independent bookshop and see if I am just a heartless horror) and we can all discuss it. I am wondering also if after tales of cancer and now the holocaust its time for a good old Agatha Christie whodunnit?

14 Comments

Filed under Corsair Books, Maria Angels Anglada, Review

14 responses to “The Auschwitz Violin – Maria Angels Anglada

  1. I think to go there Levi be writer to read he was there I ve this on my tbr simon I keep meaning to pick up but never get chance too ,all the best stu

    • I would love to know your thoughts on this one Stu, so do give it a whirl if you can. I am feeling slightly alone on this one. It was good, just lacked a certain something for me personally.

  2. Yes. Anne Frank’s Diary. Couldn’t finish it because it bored me. Guilt made me try a few times but I just couldn’t.

    The big difference, though, is that Anne Frank didn’t intend her book to be read by others. Maria Angels Anglada did. If she failed to make you care about her characters, it’s no-one’s fault but hers.

    • I wouldn’t put it quite that harshly Louise, ha. I do think it’s just that me and that book didn’t quite hit it off. Millions of people think its amazing.

      I’ve never wanted to read Anne Frank for just your reason, I would be worried it wouldn’t affect me. Especially as its not fiction.

  3. I’d say that “If she failed to make you care about her characters” then it is no ones fault! I would also suggest Primo Levi to you. Well done for making use of my favourite bookstore for your copy too!

  4. Hi, I felt the same about Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night. A story about murder, female infanticide and abuse in India. I wanted to be horrified but I ended up not giving two hoots about it. The characters didn’t grab me and I’m still not entirely sure what went on. But that was me, others seemed to like it. I think the rules are the same for any type of fiction – hard-hitting subject matter doesn’t hide weak characterisation or plot.

  5. I had a hard time reading Primo Levi, but his books have been recommended to me so many times, I’m going to have to give them another try.

    I’ve been wanting to read this book; I wonder if skipping the documents until after reading the rest of the story would help. I hope it’s okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations.

  6. Jenni

    The same happened to me when I was reading a book by Hanna Krall. The book consisted of short stories that were based on true stories of holocaust victims and survivors. But they were so fragmentary and the style wasn’t clearly fiction or non-fiction, something in between, like a report, so I wasn’t that moved.The fact that the Finnish translation was a selection of short stories taken from three different books of hers probably didn’t help either.

  7. I suppose I was put off this following the minor scandal about The Cellist of Sarajevo (the real-life cellist went live on the radio and declared that his story has been stolen by the author without his permission, and in any case the story had been doctored beyond acceptability). The Auschwitz Violin at least doesn’t claim to be a real-life story. It looks intriguing I must admit and is a bargain on Kindle. Dare I add it to my burgeoning TBR pile though?

    A fine review by the way!

    • I hadnt heard about the scandal Tom and I loved The Cellist of Sarajevo. In fact I am refusing to go and read about it in case it taints the memory of a book I thought was marvellous.

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