A striking Holocaust memoir that conveys with exceptional immediacy and cool reportage the author's desperate fight for survival and the German who came to his aid. When WWII broke out, Szpilman was a talented young Jewish pianist in Warsaw. Within a few years, he would be forced with his family into the Warsaw ghetto, where he supported them by playing in ghetto cafés.
Szpilman's memoir, suppressed by the Polish government shortly after its original publication in 1946, tells the story of the young man's difficult survival in wartime Warsaw and the deportation and death of his entire family.
With marked clarity and detachment, Szpilman takes us through the changing moods among the doomed population, moods determined by the merest whim or close calculations of the Germans. This is also a book about the power of music, which provides Szpilman the determination to go on and literally saves him several times. Several things distinguish this among Holocaust memoirs.
Written immediately after the war, The Pianist is distant and cool in its emotional tone; we sense that the author has not yet processed his emotions. Yet the immediacy of his experiences is found on every page in the details of daily life in the ghetto and his months of hiding.
This account also contains extracts from the diary of the German officer who saved Szpilman's life. Captain Wilm Hosenfeld's extraordinary reflections on the war and the epilogue by German writer Wolf Bierman describing the many times that Hosenfeld came to the aid of Jews and Poles are fitting companions to Szpilman's memoir. They allow the reader to contemplate more personally the author's marked lack of desire for revenge.
After the war, Szpilman returned to his career playing for
Polish Radio and in concert halls. What interested Szpilman (who
still lives in Warsaw), and what comes through here, is not a
desire for revenge, but the brute animal drive for survival.
Kirkus Corporation Aug. 99