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The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945 Paperback – September 2, 2000

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (September 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312263767
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312263768
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (241 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Written immediately after the end of World War II, this morally complex Holocaust memoir is notable for its exact depiction of the grim details of life in Warsaw under the Nazi occupation. "Things you hardly noticed before took on enormous significance: a comfortable, solid armchair, the soothing look of a white-tiled stove," writes Wladyslaw Szpilman, a pianist for Polish radio when the Germans invaded. His mother's insistence on laying the table with clean linen for their midday meal, even as conditions for Jews worsened daily, makes palpable the Holocaust's abstract horror. Arbitrarily removed from the transport that took his family to certain death, Szpilman does not deny the "animal fear" that led him to seize this chance for escape, nor does he cheapen his emotions by belaboring them. Yet his cool prose contains plenty of biting rage, mostly buried in scathing asides (a Jewish doctor spared consignment to "the most wonderful of all gas chambers," for example). Szpilman found compassion in unlikely people, including a German officer who brought food and warm clothing to his hiding place during the war's last days. Extracts from the officer's wartime diary (added to this new edition), with their expressions of outrage at his fellow soldiers' behavior, remind us to be wary of general condemnation of any group. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

The movie follows this book very well.
William J. Henderson
Read this book, Think about what you have read, Every one of us must be sure this terrible tragedy never happens again ANYWHERE.
Dexter Don
His story of survival is not only inspiring, but also amazing.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

247 of 253 people found the following review helpful By Eric J. Lyman on March 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
I rarely read a book after I have seen the movie it was based on because it seems almost akin to reading the final pages of the book first. Why start reading a book when you already know how it ends? When the movie already gives you a mental picture of what the characters are like? When it would be impossible to read the description of a scene, a conversation, an expression, or a mood without thinking first of the director's and screenwriter's interpretation of those things?
I stand by that view, but I also suggest throwing it out the window when it comes to The Pianist.
I was so moved by the film that when I saw this book in a store, I could not help but pick it up. Once in my hands, I could not help but read the first few lines. Once I read them, I could not help but buy the book. And once I bought it, the next day and a half of my life was dominated by the chilling, horrible, graphic and compelling story.
I won't go into an overview of the plot, since my fellow reviewers have covered that territory very accurately. But I will say that this is a rare case where the value of a book is not compromised by the movie -- the story is so well told and the details (most of which the movie screenwriter was forced to leave out) are so evocative and potent that they flow over and around any preconceived notions.
The film is well done, and by all means it should be seen. But don't let seeing the movie deprive you of the pleasure of this powerful book, which illustrates once again what we have known all along -- that great literature succeeds where other art forms fall short.
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124 of 130 people found the following review helpful By Justyna Ball on April 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
In January 2000, while visiting Warsaw, I met "Pan Wladek," the retired Director of Music at the Polish Radio. I read a book by him about his survival in the Nazi-occupied capital, and I was intrigued by the fact that I knew all the places he mentioned in the book. I was not surprised to learn that he still lives in the same part of Warsaw that I am from. I knew exactly where to find him.
Pan Wladek was a composer, honored by President of Poland with a Commander Order with a Star of Polonia Restituta. Although for decades he was known to millions for producing popular rather than classical music. He was responsible for launching the careers of many Polish singers. They often complained at first for choosing them the wrong material, almost every time he proved them wrong. A composer of nearly 500 songs; many made the pop charts. My favorite was the one about going to the Old Town, how he described the beauty of the restored part of the city, which was almost completely destroyed during WWII as Hitler's revenge against the Home Army's Warsaw Uprising in 1944. As a child, I learned that song from my grandmother and I sang it to my daughter years later. By the age of 2, she knew it by heart. That January, I visited the author.
After three attempts (finally, I realized that I was knocking on the wrong door), I met Pani Halina, the musician's wife, a doctor who comes from a prominent Polish family. She was an example of hospitality, feeding me with coffeecake and preserves, chatting but not letting me disturb her husband who as she explained was not feeling well that day. I sighed, but had no right to push my luck any farther. We hugged, and I walked to the door when I looked up the stairs. And there he was, the maestro.
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54 of 55 people found the following review helpful By J. Steinfeld on February 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The Pianist is a moving eye-witness account of one man's survival in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Wladyslaw Szpilman--a Jew and famed pianist for Polish Radio--relates his memories of the unutterable and unrelenting horrors of the Holocaust in Warsaw--the random executions, starving children, mass deportations--with a sober, almost uncanny detachment. And though the machinery of extermination is all around him, he somehow evades his pursuers through friends willing to risk their lives to hide him. His father, mother, two sisters and a brother are all deported and sent to their deaths in concentration camp. And, when it appears, near war's end, that he is at the end of luck, trying to still keep himself concealed in a part of Warsaw that his been systematically destroyed by the Germans, he finds an unexpected saviour: Wilm Hosenfeld, a German Army captain who, rather than kill Szpilman, provides him with a hiding place and necessities to kept him alive until the Soviet Army finally liberates the city. This slim volume written with in a kind of terse, no-nonsense style that will keep the reader riveted to each episode in Szpilman's incredible Odyssey, is probably one of the best books I have read in the area of Holocaust literature.
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By karolinatx on May 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
I read The Pianist in the original Polish, but the book will read well in any language. As Szpilman's son writes in the preface to the book, his father was not a writer, and the memoir is a testament to that fact. There is no overly flowerly language, no planned-out metaphors. The Pianist is simply a factual account of the mirculous events which lead to Wladyslaw Szpilman surviving first the Warsaw ghetto and later hiding out in Warsaw for years until the war ended. I learned quite a bit about life in the ghetto by reading the book, and found it interesting that Szpilman did not write with rage or hatred towards those who made his life a living hell for so many years. The memoir is, in a way, an exercise in fate -- there were so many opportunities when Szpilman could have died, could have been discovered, could have been sent to Treblinka, that it seems that his survival was written in the stars. The Pianist is a short memoir, a quick read, and very much recommended to anyone who is interested in the Holocaust or World War II. Roman Polanski was just in Poland shooting the movie version, and I'm interested to see how that turns out.
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