Review: The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman

I had seen the movie version and hadn’t actually realised there was a book until I stumbled upon it at my local library. The movie made me cry. The book wrenched even more at my heart.

Wladyslaw Szpilman writes with an eery disconnect. It’s all very matter of fact and that’s what makes it so haunting. He wrote the book as a journal shortly after the war so the experiences were still fresh, so perhaps he was suffering some kind of shock and that’s what makes it so compelling. The movie was beautifully and hauntingly made and captures the entire essence of the book which so many movies fail to do but the book adds another layer to have it from the horse’s mouth so to speak and to have his voice in your imagination as you read.

Wladyslaw Szpilman lived through the war as a matter of accident. He was not shipped off on a train to an extermination camp purely because a police officer recognised him and pulled him back. Afterwards, he survived on the kindness of a distance relative and then on the kindness of strangers with a conscience. He survived the razing of Warsaw due to the kindness of a German officer who at the time of meeting Szpilman was ashamed to call himself German. Szpilman never saw the officer again but later discovered he was not the only Jew the officer had helped and ultimately saved.

After it’s first publication in Poland in 1946, the book was quickly taken off the shelves and Szpilman was forced to claim the officer was Austrian rather than German as it was unimaginable to have a German as a Jew’s saviour.

This story is a haunting, heartbreaking and beautifully told story of a human’s quest for survival even when he seemingly has nothing left to live for and nowhere to hide.

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