Fiction – paperback; Corsair; 109 pages; 2010. Translated from the Catalan by Martha Tennent. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.
Any book set in a Nazi death camp brings with it a certain kind of foreboding. But there’s something quite uplifting about Maria Àngels Anglada’s tale of survival set in Auschwitz.
Here, amid the death and brutality, a Jewish prisoner and former luthier is charged with a special task: he must make a violin for the camp’s Commandant using a limited palette of materials and tools. What Daniel doe not know is that if he fails to make the instrument to a high enough standard he will be handed over to the camp’s doctor, a man who conducts terrible experiments on his patients. But if he does build a suitable violin the doctor must hand over a case of wine to the Commandant.
This secret wager is no doubt a cruel one, but because the knowledge of it is kept from Daniel until well into the task (a fellow prisoner lets it slip), it does not affect the way he carries out the job. Indeed, Daniel is already living in fear — mainly because the Commandant’s behaviour is vindictive and unpredictable — so making the violin comes as a welcome distraction.
The story is an incredibly poignant one, especially as it shows how Daniel’s dedication to his craft gives him a reason to continue living when all around him lie starvation, disease and death. The very thought that his hand-crafted violin could be used to make beautiful music provides much-needed hope at a time of great despair.
While the book is far too slim to flesh out characters or provide important background detail, it tells the story in a simple, straightforward prose style reminiscent of short-story writing. And while it might be just over 100 pages long, it’s power should not be under-estimated. The author’s inclusion of real-life extracts from Nazi documents, which are detailed at the beginning of each chapter, only add to the weight of this novella.
The Auschwitz Violin will be published in the UK on November 4.