Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Angels Anglada (2/5)

First published: 1994
Original title:
El violi d'Auschwitz

Original language: Spanish
Translation to English by: Martha Tennent, 2010
Page count: 128


The back says: In the winter of 1991, at a concert in Krakow, an older woman with a marvellously pitched violin meets a fellow musician who is instantly captivated by her instrument. When he asks her how she obtained it, she reveals the remarkable story behind its origin...

Imprisoned at Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp, Daniel feels his humanity slipping away. Treasured memories of the young woman he loved become hazier with each passing day. But when Daniel's former identity as a crafter of fine violins is revealed, the Kommandant and camp doctor use this information to make a cruel wager. And so, battling exhaustion, Daniel tries to recapture his lost art, knowing all too well the likely cost of failure.

I say: I expected to much more from this than what I got, and to say that I am disappointed would be correct. Knowing very well how morbid this may sound, there was a period in my teens when I was obsessed with The Holocaust and read innumerable novels about its prisoners, loving, and simultaneously, dreading the outcome. So it was with great anticipation that I bought this, hoping for a beautiful tale, but instead I got a contrived story of absolute improbability.

Or maybe I shouldn’t say ‘improbable’ as we all know everything was probably during WWII – semantics are your friend – so I’ll say ‘unconvincing’.

When Daniel is sent to Auschwitz he says that he is a carpenter and is put to work fixing random things in the Kommandant’s house. After hearing a violinist being admonished for playing poorly, Daniel steps up and says that it was the fault of the violin, not the player. Daniel is told to fix the instrument, and after doing so to the satisfaction of the Kommandant, he is soon told to build a violin from scratch. The wager between the Kommandant and the doctor is that if Daniel cannot finish the instrument within a certain amount of time, the doctor gets to use his body for experiments. If Daniel manages, however, the Kommandant gets a case of wine.

Sickening.

The prose in the novel was rather dull, but fast-paced enough for me to not get too stuck on particulars. It seems as though the only details we really got were those concerning the making of a violin, rather than the life in Auschwitz. It felt like Anglada focused so much energy on making sure the right process was explained rather than focusing on the genuine state of Daniel. Yes, she told of his life prior to the war, what happened to the woman he loved, and how he suffered, but it all just felt like a pretext to tell a story about a luthier, i.e. a violin maker.

And, quite frankly, it bored me.

The prose was meh, the story was meh, and the only really good thing I got out of it was learning that a violin maker is called a luthier. And I am not even going to mention how brazenly Schindler was put into the story (apart from through this passive-aggressive remark). Now, I am no WWII expert so maybe he did save luthiers all over the German territory, but the way she inserted him just made me cringe.

Ugh.

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