Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Violin of Auschwitz, Maria Angels Anglada

Let me preface my review by stating that I have a particular interest in translated novels, and I'm always excited to see a novel by a Catalan author. I was really excited to read this title, as I've found stories about the Holocaust to be inspiring, especially in that I am able to better evaluate my own attitudes in life towards loyalty and inner strength.

In any case, I found this novel to be disappointing, although its premise is original. The story proceeds through the imprisonment of a violin maker who gets marginally better treatment than other prisoners because he is able to repair the Commander's violin, as well as make a new one for the man. He artfully designs the new violin, but is under constant tension because he knows any flaws will mean his death. Eventually, in a flashforward, we find that his niece now owns the violin and plays artfully in a symphony in Krakow. The violin understandably is her greatest treasure.

I've read many books about the Holocaust, and the pain is visceral. At times, I had to put Schindler's List down, for days, because of the devastating content. Elie Wiesel's Night affected me similarly (don't even get me started on Sophie's Choice). It's probably unfair to compare, but Anglada's novel lacks something of the humanity of the other titles. I didn't feel any pull from the main character, there was simply nothing to hook me into the book. His behavior as a prisoner never seemed to change or alter throughout various trials in the camp, and he spoke of little other than overwhelming hunger. There was no insight in to what motivated him or how he felt about the others, except from an almost clinical distance. The character speaks of some of the horrors of Auschwitz, but they come off almost as if read from an encyclopedia; they lack a human element. It's almost as if the author was trying to downplay the tragedy to the point that it's impact was lost.

The novel is filled with references to composers, cities, and Schindler himself, but somehow it still felt small and too contained. Possibly because there are only three significant characters, and possibly because they were never fully revealed.  Another awkward detail was that the dialogue felt stilted.  People don't normally speak with semi-colons, and the way even the smallest portions of speech were written, in complete sentences (not fragmented as in typical conversation), didn't ring true.

The book is very short, almost novella sized, as was Wiesel's Night. But Night is exponentially more powerful and moving.
This novel was provided by Bantam Dell to LibraryThing as an Early Reviewer title.


  1. That's too bad -- I always have to wonder if there was something "lost in translation," but it doesn't sound like it in this case.

  2. Thank you for your candid review. I have a bit of an obsession with novels of this time period, as there are so many that evoke emotion and stay with me for long after I read the last page. I think I will skip this one, though.

    Have you read Sarah's Key? The Book Thief? Two of my favorites.