Daniel is a luthier--a violin maker. In his Auschwitz sub-camp, he survives by working as a carpenter, spending his afternoons laboring in the I.G. Farben factory (those of you who read Gravity's Rainbow may remember that company's importance to the postwar knowledge scavengers). An impulsive--and insanely dangerous--remark brings him to the notice of the camp's commander, who orders him to produce a violin to the specifications of a Stradivarius. Daniel later finds that this task is the object of a macabre bet.
The Auschwitz Violin (or, possibly, The Violin of Auschwitz: the Amazon and ARC titles differ) will be released on August 31, 2010. Translated from Catalan by Martha Tennent, the original version has had considerable success in Europe, and film rights have been acquired. That doesn't surprise me one bit, as my first thought when I finished reading this short novel (at just over 100 pages, I'd call it a novella) was that it would make a beautiful film in the right hands. It has so many sensual elements: the music, the visual beauty of the violin, the contrast with the brutality of the camp. Give it to an outstanding director, and you've got an Oscar winner right there.
As for the book, I felt that the writing (or perhaps the translation?) could have flowed more smoothly at times, but the story is beautiful and poignant. It's like Night with a less depressing ending, and could become just as successful commercially. The message is one of hope: being able to exercise the profession he loves keeps Daniel alive in circumstances where men die of sheer hopelessness just as much as starvation and disease. Like Night, the story is told in a straightforward, unembellished way; if you've ever heard the survivors of horrors speaking, that's pretty much the way they tell it. The facts are so heartrending that they don't need elaboration.
The moment in the book that has stuck with me is the sheer terror that Daniel experiences in the presence of the camp's doctor, who selects prisoners for experiments, and the way he uses his work to disguise and control his fear. This is a book worth reading, and I'd unhesitatingly recommend it to almost anyone. It would make a good addition to a history or even music class, and middle or high school readers would probably also find it accessible. The extracts from genuine Nazi documents at the beginning of the chapters are very telling.
I'm really looking forward to that movie.