Saturday, April 18, 2015

O.o.O.C.: "The Pianist" by Władysław Szpilman

It's been awhile since I finished my last Travel the World in Books Challenge pick, which was originally why I picked this book up back in March. I assumed because it was short in page length that I'd be able to devour this in a few days.

The thing I always (always) seem to underestimate when I read memoirs is the emotional impact. You can't read a Holocaust memoir without having some sort of inner monologue going on (like, "I know what's going to happen here, but I don't really want to read it and know for certain it did."). Memoirs in general are a frustration to me because you want to build a time machine and prevent things from happening. And, as of yet, my time machine is nonfunctional, so I can't go back and shave Hilter's mustache/soul patch off so he's too embarrassed to be the evil mastermind behind the bulk of the second World War.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'The last live broadcast on Polish Radio, on September 23, 1939, was Chopin's Nocturne in C# Minor, played by a young pianist named Wladyslaw Szpilman, until his playing was interrupted by German shelling. It was the same piece and the same pianist, when broadcasting resumed six years later. The Pianist is Szpilman's account of the years in between, of the death and cruelty inflicted on the Jews of Warsaw and on Warsaw itself, related with a dispassionate restraint borne of shock. Szpilman, now 88, has not looked at his description since he wrote it in 1946 (the same time as Primo Levi's If This Is A Man?; it is too personally painful. The rest of us have no such excuse.'

The parts I liked best of this book are at the very beginning and the very end. When we are introduced to Władysław's family, you feel like you've met them before somewhere- they're that familiar. Although I did watch the movie version of The Pianist, the scenes I recall the most were when he was completely alone, so it wasn't from that. That sense of familiar almost-intimacy with the people of the book makes it that much harder to read through quickly- you don't want anything bad to happen to them, but still realize this is a WWII memoir.

At the very end, we get a second view of the story through another's eyes, which makes it all the more painfully beautiful to read. It isn't often I skim through sections just to keep myself from tears, but yes- that epilogue I couldn't read fully because I already knew the ending.

The Pianist, like all Holocaust memoirs, is a book that ensures the happenings of World War II won't be forgotten. The story itself is unlike many others because of an unlikely hero stepping in to keep Władysław alive long enough to see the war end. Although in certain areas, the recollections seemed stilted because of the sheer amount of detail, The Pianist manages to retain the reader's interest via an emotional resonance. If you've watched the movie and haven't gotten to the book yet, I strongly recommend this heart-rending memoir.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an emotionally tumultuous memoir.

Content: Ages 16+ for graphic violence and war crimes.

Page Count: 222 pages

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