Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Moving Little Partita - "The Auschwitz Violin," a Novel by Maria Angels Anglada

Like a Bach Partita, "The Violin of Auschwitz" is a small piece that packs a punch. Written by the Catalan novelist, Maria Angels Anglada and beautifully translated by Martha Tennent, this tiny gem is a story of beauty surviving amidst squalor and unthinkable human cruelty. Set in a satellite camp to Auschwitz, the book unblinkingly tells the take of a Jewish prisoner, a luthier in his former life, who is impressed by the prison commander to build a violin. the challenge is part of an elaborate wager between the commander and one of his colleagues, and the stakes involve the life of the violin maker.

This book was clearly written and translated with all of the kind of loving care and artistry that Antonio Stradivari brought to the craft of his masterpiece instruments.

The following excerpt is emblematic of the these of beauty surviving in the most hostile of environments:

"Nothing existed other than the camp, other than this island, this monstrous archipelago of subcamps. He {the violin maker/prisoner]felt a gust of wind, and the air was less icy, more gentle. It was the first benevolent gesture in this land of hatred. the swallows would be nesting soon on the street where he had lived in Krakow. Spring, he told himself, would bloom brighter over the bodies of the thousands of dead. It wasn't a comforting thought, but it was true.

He found the coffee more bitter, the slice of bread punier, almost as if his thoughts had weighted it down, kept it from rising. A few moments later, as the inmates were heading to their work areas, he paused to glance at the sky - something he rarely did because he found it always shrouded in clouds or fog - and discovered large patches of blue. A harsh slap on his back forced him to march again. Yes, he thought again as he stifled a sob, spring is drawing near. Our dead will fertilize the earth and spring will return." (pages 55-56)

Written as it must be in a minor key, this small book hits all the right notes and is worthy reading because the epoch it recalls must never be forgotten.


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