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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Savior by Eugene Drucker

The Savior by Eugene Drucker. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. ISBN: 978-1-4165-4329-9

I picked this book up because of the violin prominently displayed on the cover; it wasn't until later that I noticed the violin had barbed wire for strings, and that it was laid out on roughly weathered unpainted boards, reminiscent of a prison camp.

While it is not a particularly pleasant book, it is a powerful one, and I'm not unhappy to have encountered it. The author is a long-time member of the Emerson String Quartet, a group I've had the privilege of hearing in person at least once, and have heard numerous times in recordings, some of which I own.

Some of the inspiration for this story came from the experiences of the author's father, also a violinist, who became concertmaster of the Jewish Kulturbund Orchestra in Frankfort during the years that the Nazis were in power, and when Jews were no longer welcome in other orchestras.

The main character is not Jewish, however. When the book opens, we find him playing solo to wounded soldiers who would probably prefer dance hall music to his renditions of the Bach solo violin Partitas. Meanwhile, in flashbacks, we learn of his student experiences, when he fell in love with a beautiful young pianist who just happens to be Jewish, and how his love for her is ultimately not strong enough to withstand the pressures of the growing anti-Jewish sentiment and strictures of the Nazi regime.

Back in the present, one day the SS comes knocking at his door. Have they discovered his past? Do they know about his girlfriend? And that partly at her instigation, he actually planned to audition for the position of concertmaster in the all-Jewish orchestra? That she obtained fake documents establishing a Jewish grandparent for him? Will the fact that in the end he took the coward's way out and never showed up for his audition have no ameliorating influence now? Is his past coming back to haunt him?

But no, it merely seems that the commandant of a nearby concentration camp wants him to take part in a brutal experiment. If a group of prisoners, more dead than alive, having reached that state of existence sometimes thought of as the living, walking dead, if these people are exposed to live music from the masters, can they be brought back to life? Can they become human again? And what will happen to them if they do? Or don't?

I won't spoil the story by telling you exactly what happens, but since it's a holocaust novel, we more or less know what to expect. This story puts us inside the head of someone who, if not actually a collaborator with the Nazis, lacked the character to actively resist them, and we follow along as it destroys his soul, his music, and his ability to function as a human being.

A powerful novel, well written, intense—but not a pleasant or happy one. Nevertheless, recommended for anyone willing to experience some of what it must have been like to live through those horrific times. Especially recommended for those, like me, who are attracted to stories with a musical basis.

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