My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Humanity seems doomed to do more evil than good. The greatest ideal on earth is human love.”
That quote isn’t from Szpilman himself; it’s from the diary of Wilm Hosenfeld, the German officer who helped Szpilman, excerpts of which are included after the memoir itself. And I would agree with it. This book is about nothing less than humanity’s own consistent failure to live up to its own ideals.
This book really whapped me in the head, and not because of any spectacular writing. As a matter of fact, not far into the book I mused that the writing was a bit dispassionate, all things considered. I was okay with that, because the man was a musician, not a writer. It’s still competently written. And then I got it, that this was written in 1945 by a man who had just endured endless years of the most inhumane treatment, had lost his entire family to the world’s most infamous genocide, and I realized that I may have been reading stalwart detachment, but it also may have been an attempt to hold on to some dignity in the face of unutterable shock and loss.
One part of me thinks I have to stop reading books like this, that try to decimate what faith in humanity I have while also displaying the resilience of the human spirit, and another part thinks no, this stuff needs to stay in the front of our minds, to remind us to be vigilant. You only have to follow the news to know we haven’t fucking learned, and to suspect we probably never will. This is a deeply moving book that gets four very depressing stars and not five, only because I’m sure I cannot bear to ever read it again. It’s no surprise that Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor seems to sound even more melancholy now.
This was #17 on my 2017 Reading Challenge, a book set during wartime.
Bookshelves: memoir, jewish-history, nazi-hate, world-war-ii, translated-to-english, banned-and-challenged, grittiest-reality, non-fiction, reading-challenge
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