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.
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?