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The Pianist
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About the Author

Wladyslaw Szpilman was born in 1911. He studied the piano at the Warsaw Conservatory and at the Academy of Arts in Berlin. From 1945 to 1963, he was Director of Music at Polish Radio, and he also pursued a career as a concert pianist and composer for many years. He lives in Warsaw

Reviews

Originally published in Poland in 1945 but then suppressed by the Communist authorities, this memoir of survival in the Warsaw Ghetto joins the ranks of Holocaust memoirs notable as much for their literary value as for their historical significance. Szpilman, a Jewish classical pianist, played the last live music broadcast from Warsaw before Polish Radio went off the air in September 1939 because of the German invasion. In a tone that is at once dispassionate and immediate, Szpilman relates the horrors of life inside the ghetto. But his book is distinguished by the dazzling clarity he brings to the banalities of ghetto life, especially the eerie normalcy of some social relations amid catastrophic upheaval. He shows how Jewish residents of the Polish capital adjusted to life under the occupation: "The armbands branding us as Jews did not bother us, because we were all wearing them, and after some time living in the ghetto I realized that I had become thoroughly used to them." Using a reporter's powers of description, Szpilman, who is still alive at the age of 88, records the chilling conversations that took place as Jews waited to be transported to their deaths. "We're not heroes!" he recalls his father saying. "We're perfectly ordinary people, which is why we prefer to risk hoping for that 10 per cent chance of living." In a twist that exemplifies how this book will make readers look again at a history they thought they knew, he details how a German captain saved his life. Employing language that has more in common with the understatement of Primo Levi than with the moral urgency of Elie Wiesel, Szpilman is a remarkably lucid observer and chronicler of how, while his family perished, he survived thanks to a combination of resourcefulness and chance. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Szpilman's memoir of life in the Warsaw ghetto is remarkable not only for the heroism of its protagonists but for the author's lack of bitterness, even optimism, in recounting the events. Written and published in a short run in Poland soon after the war, this first translation maintains a freshness of experience lacking in many later, more ruminative Holocaust memoirs. (LJ 8/99) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

"Stunning . . . Filled with unforgettable incidents, images, and people." --The Wall Street Journal "Remarkable . . . a document of lasting historical and human value." --The Los Angeles Times "Historically indispensible." --Washington Post Book World "The Pianist is a great book." --The Boston Globe "Even by the standards set be Holocaust memoirs, this book is a stunner." --Seattle Weekly "A stunning tribute to what one human being can endure, The Pianist is even more--a testimony to the redemptive power of fellow feeling." --The Plain Dealer "Distinguished by [Szpilman's] dazzling clarity . . . Remarkably lucid." --Publishers Weekly (starred review) "A striking Holocaust memoir that conveys with exceptional immediacy and cool reportage the author's desperate fight for survival." --Kirkus Reviews "The Pianist is a book so fresh and vivid, so heartbreaking, and so simply and beautifully written, that it manages to tell us the story of horrendous events as if for the first time . . . an altogether unforgettable book. " --The Daily Telegraph "Wladyslaw Szpilman's memoir of life in Nazi-occupied Warsaw and the Jewish ghetto has a singular vividness. All is conveyed with an understated intimacy and dailiness that render them painfully close." --The Observer "It is all told with a simple clarity that lodges the story in one's stomach through a mixture of disgust, terror, despair, rage, and guilt that grips the reader almost gently. " --The Spectator "Illuminates vividly the horror that overcame the Polish people. Szpilman's account has an immediacy, vivid and anguished." --The Sunday Telegraph

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