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on March 25, 2003
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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on April 17, 2003
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. He was wearing silky navy blue pajamas with tiny white polka dots and a brown velvet robe with his gray hair nonchalantly combed off his face. He walked down slowly. Standing there, speechless, I was yelled at by Pan Wladek for letting my husband wait in the car while I'm chatting and drinking coffee with his wife. I grabbed my husband and brought him before the man. We were treated to the tour of the memory lane; the grand piano in the corner of the living room had a collection of photographs. Pan Wladek traveled the whole world as a member of the Warsaw Piano Quintet. He traveled everywhere but Australia. He talked about his musician friend Bronislaw Gimpel who lived in LA. We learned his whole family story, about the son who lives in Japan and the other one from Hamburg. He was just as I imagined: wise, dignified, well mannered, and funny above it all.
He displayed his disappointment that the American version of his book did not include photographs, as the German edition did.
Later, he mentioned that a famous Polish director contacted him about making a movie based on his book but he was very skeptical, it seemed so unreal. So we just laughed.
Pan Wladek died the following July at age 88. Three years later, I sat in the West Newton movie theatre watching 6 years of his life before my eyes on a big screen. The famous director's name was Polanski. Pan Wladek's last name was Szpilman and he is the main character behind "The Pianist" now "playing in a theatre near you". In the collaboration of three Poles: Fryderyk Chopin, Wladyslaw Szpilman and Roman Polanski, a masterpiece was created. Palme d'Or for the Best Picture at Cannes' International Film Festival was followed by the Boston Film Critics Award, New York Critics Award, and 7 Oscar nominations. Why this film differs from the Hollywood-made Holocaust movies is for you to find out.
In the 80's, the children of the German officer who in the last days of the war offered Szpilman a coat and chose not to kill him, visited Mr.Szpilman in Warsaw. They do not remember their father but learned about Mr.Szpilman from his letters from stalag. The pictures in a photo album beautifully arranged by the officer's daughter in law, showed Mr. Szpilman climbing the stairs to the attic where he hid. The little boy next to him is the grandson of the German officer. Another photograph shows Mr. Szpilman in a beautiful tailored suit and the officer's son exploring together the streets of Warsaw's Old Town. I feel privileged that I had an opportunity to meet Mr.Szpilman, and I feel obligated to share it with you.
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on February 25, 2000
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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on May 9, 2001
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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on March 29, 2003
In his book The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, Wladyslaw Szpilman writes, "A number of people escaped with their lives during the war because of the cowardice of the Germans, who liked to show courage only when they felt they greatly outnumbered their enemies." Truly and luckily, Szpilman is one among the number. From almost a million Jews population in the city of Warsaw, through "resettlement", human-hunting, and unreasonable decrees; the Germans trimmed the Jewish descent to its bone of merely twenty-five thousand in just 5 years. It is the very cowardice of the Germans, and more importantly the undying will of living that makes Szpilman's survival possible. I'm not in a position to judge the manner of which this book was written, simply because it was Mr. Szpilman's real life story and to whom I shall pay my highest tribute and regard.
The prose is written in a very calm voice which somewhat surprises me at the beginning. Later I realize that no sooner had the war ended and the Germans surrendered than Mr. Szpilman wrote this account fresh from memory. It seems to be that Mr. Szpilman was emotionally detached during the writing as he probably had not come back to his senses after the inferno. That also explained why he could accurately recall and date the incidents accordingly. The book itself is emotionally difficult to read and at some points I have to put it down, close my eyes and meditate for a minute. Few of the incidents still capture my mind and bother me after I finish reading: Mr. Szpilman's parting from his family as his parents, brother and sisters were taken away to concentration camp; the clearing of a Jewish orphanage founded by his friend Janusz who stayed his children on their final journey, the Germans (fabricated) video-clipping of Jewish men and women shower naked in public bathhouse to show how immoral and despicable the Jews were; and Mr. Szpilman's fugitive life after his escape from the Germans. Mr. Szpilman attempted suicide but the will for survival overcame the idea. His life took a dramatic turn when Captain Hosenfeld found him in the ruined city of Warsaw and spared his life. Though he never found the man, as Mr. Szpilman reminisced, Hosenfeld was the angel without whom, Mr. Szpilman, a Polish Jew, would probably not have survived at all. During his hiding days, Mr. Szpilman meditated on the music pieces and arduously maintained the hope of playing piano for the Poles again. Mr. Szpilman's account is a stunning tale of endurance, faith, and hope.
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on February 5, 2003
I found this book unforgettable. The author writes in a very detached style, and the effect that this has, can only be described as "haunting." We have to keep reminding ourself that the events in this book really happened,and that those were real people who were killed.
I saw Polanski's "THE PIANIST" last weekend,was very impressed and wanted to learn more about the real hero of the movie. I searched online for his recordings. After two days I received two CD's from Amazon related to Wladyslaw Szpilman: One with his beautiful songs sung by Wendy Lands (wonderfully arranged, smooth, some jazzy, some kind of pop, very american-like music, which I love to hear in the mornings) and another one with the original recordings of his great classical interpretations - Chopin ( i.e. the Nocturne from the final scene of the movie ), Rachmaninoff, Bach and his own music - Concertino for Piano and Orchestra composed in the Warsaw Ghetto in a time of deepest repressions by the Germans (I was surprised how optimistic this music sounds). He was a great pianist and composer. After I learned his story through the book, the movie, now I also got in touch with this man personally, through his music and artistry. Great feeling!!
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on April 20, 2003
This book, The Pianist, is my third English book to read which first seems to be difficut for me , a Japanese, to complete reading for unknown new wording and longer sentence. However, accurate and objective and rather calm description of difficult time of Poland and Holocost, gradualy strikes me and I have been transferred to the days of Warsaw when German invaded and forced terrible life to all Jews. Szpilman, among them, separated from his family at Umschlagplatz, staggering down the empty street, weeping out loud. Later on , he tried suicide in the burning building, thinking of the death of parents, sister and brother, gassed in chamber. What I most moved is , as in the movie, he played Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor in fron of German Captain Hosenfeld. Music sound floated through streets of ruins of Warsaw and strongly insists not only human agony and pains of death but also hope for live and humanity.
I think you will see God who guided Szpilam to endure and live through war for the hope and love.
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on March 8, 2000
The are several books detailing the horrors of the Holocaust and although each and every person's story is important, this book is very unique. One man's story of survival in Warsaw during World War II offers a new perspective on the Holocaust. Although this perspective is none the less chilling, it does help break stereotypes which continue today and shows that good and evil existed among both the German and Jewish populations.
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on June 12, 2003
Wladyslaw Szpilman's memoir `The pianist' is spell binding. It was hard to put the book down, once I started reading it. I have already read it 3 times. There is so much detail in Szpilman's writing that it is hard to grasp it all in just one reading. Szpilman's son writes in the Foreword that his father was not a writer; he was a musician. However, this is one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read.
The book is an honest, detailed, and detached observation of an important historical period 1939-1945, from Szpilman's perspective. His story of survival is not only inspiring, but also amazing. Szpilman came close to death several times during this period, but every time he somehow survived- sometimes by instinct, or luck, or kindness of many people, and most of the time through his self discipline and the will to survive. He survived the loss of his entire family, bullets from German soldiers, starvation, cold, jaundice, carbon monoxide, burning buildings, sleeping pills, and the German death train. He was meant to live, and tell his story. Szpilman tells it just the way it happened, with feelings, but without melodrama. There is subtle humor, vivid word pictures, and detailed accounts of places, people, and events. They are a testimony to his ability to observe and to communicate. He kept with him a pen and his wristwatch throughout his hiding, and he wrote immediately after the war, so his accounts are fresh and accurate.
When I read the book, I had already seen the movie twice, so there was no real suspense. Yet the book held my attention as much as the movie did. The movie complements the book, in a way. The pictures come alive in the movie, but some events and things decribed in the book are even more horrifying and shocking than what the movie shows. To realize that these things actually happened is a sad statement for humanity.
A fascinating portion of the book is at the end. There are excerpts from Captain Wilm Hosenfeld's diary and they reveal the kind and moral person behind the German uniform. The excerpts do not include Szpilman, however, because the last entry was made before he met Szpilman. The Epilogue, written by Wolf Biermann- a German writer - upon Wladyslaw Szpilman's request is an important part of the book. Szpilman looked for his savior almost immediately, and he even contacted a powerful Polish person to help him, when he discovered in 1950 where Hosenfeld was. Unfortunately his efforts were unsuccessful in rescuing him from the Russian POW camp.
I would have liked to see more pictures in this book. There is a picture of Szpilman with his siblings, and two by himself- one before and one after the war. There is a picture of Captain Hosenfeld, which was given to Szpilman by the officer's widow, when he visited her in 1957. Some family pictures would have made this book even more interesting. However, the lack of them does not lower the value of the memoirs.
For anyone interested in the history of WWII this book is a must read. Even without such an interest, this is a great inspirational book for anyone who cares, and I highly recommend it to all.
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on February 27, 2005
The Pianist, by Wladyslaw Szpilman, is the story of the author's life in war torn Warsaw from 1939 to 1945. During this time, he went from being one of the leading concert pianists in Poland to someone who was forced to live in an attic, eating scraps of food and drinking dirty water in order to survive. His family was taken from him, his friends, his way of life, but he survived and outlived the brutal Nazi Regime that did all it could to destroy him. Written in the first person shortly after the end of World War II, the Pianist is an extremely well written story and should be read by those who enjoyed the movie, and by those who are interested in learning about the Holocaust. I highly recommend it.

For some reason, only three stars show above. However, I gave this book a rating of five stars.
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