I read The Librarian of Auschwitz in January. Review spoiler alert: it’s incredible. It floored me. I immediately wrote this review, then immediately thought that it didn’t do justice to the book.
So it (immediately) sat here in my drafts folder doing nothing, being (immediately) read by no-one. Which did far less justice to the book.
So here, months later, is my non-immediate review for your reading pleasure. Enjoy. (The book. Which you should read. Immediately. Sorry. That’s another spoiler.)
The Librarian of Auschwitz / Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites
(Pan Macmillan Australia, 2017)
Based on the experiences of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust.
Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Displaced, along with her mother and father, from their home in Prague – first to the capital city’s ghetto, then northward to the Terezin settlement, and now to Auschwitz in Poland – Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Fredy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees, becoming the librarian of Auschwitz.
This book is incredible. INCREDIBLE.
When I read books that I might possibly review, I fold the bottom of pages containing quotes that blow me away. I don’t mean decent quotes, or ones that make me pause. I mean quotes that really knock me for six. Quotes that make me reconsider my view on something, perhaps, or that take a concept I struggle to express in paragraphs and distil it into a single sentence. Quotes that make me wish I’d written them, but also make me glad I didn’t so I could discover them in this perfect context.
Sometimes, I have to flick back through the book to add a few folds. Usually, I have to write out the six or eight quotes I’ve marked, and whittle them down to four.
I folded up 16 pages of this book. And two of them were double-folds, meaning there was more than one quote on that single page that blew me away/knocked me for six/other metaphor that my not-a-published-author brain won’t deliver.
My last 16-dog-ear salute went to Stephen King’s On Writing in 2015. And a lot of those quotes were things I wanted to remember as I pursued the craft of writing myself. This 16-dog-ear salute? It’s all about the writing, rather than the chase of said writing.
Enough gushing. To the book. The Librarian of Auschwitz sings. It sings with beauty, it sings with life, it sings with death and it sings with despair. It asks how could this happen? and also how could anyone have stood up to this?. It asks How could anyone find beauty in this? and also How else could you survive it?. Iturbe has woven fact with fiction-based-firmly-on-fact and lyrical storytelling to create a masterpiece. Or, to use his own phrase, ‘the bricks used to construct this story are facts, and they are held together in these pages with a mortar of fiction’.
Standout lines (you’ll note that I’ve included far more than usual…):
- Death has become an industry that is profitable only if it’s done wholesale.
- Auschwitz not only kills innocents; it kills innocence as well. (This quote made me pause and wonder if this line is as powerful in the book’s original Spanish.)
- You have to have a childhood to be a child!
- Fredy tries to picture his father, but he can’t. His strongest memory of him back then is of the hole left by his absence.
- Hans Adler is fighting against pneumonia with very few weapons – a lone, malnourished man broken by all the elements of war against a microbial army bursting with energy.
- It feels good to inspire fear in others, and it’s easy to get used to doing it.
- Her father’s absence weighs unbearably on her. How can something that no longer exists be so heavy? How can emptiness have weight?
- No matter how much the daily roll call normally irritates the children, its brevity this morning has shattered them.
Have you read The Librarian of Auschwitz? What did you think?
This is not a sponsored post. I received a copy of The Librarian of Auschwitz from Macmillan for the purposes of review. All views are my own. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click to purchase the item, I may earn a little commission, but you won’t pay any extra.