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The Pianist : The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945

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The Pianist : The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945 Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

1. What do we learn about the narrator of The Pianist in the book's opening chapter? Who is he? Where does he live? What does he do for a living? Who are his loved ones? Also, discuss the narrator's tone or attitude, given his use of phrases like “the most wonderful of all gas chambers” and other such remarks.

2. “Two lives began to go on side by side,” Szpilman writes near the conclusion of Chapter 4, discussing what it was like to be in Warsaw just after the Germans took the city. What were these two lives? What exactly did each life involve? And who were the people leading them? Comment on the dual character that Szpilman ascribes to his hometown, both in this chapter and throughout The Pianist.

3. “I laid my head on the piano and--for the first time in this war--I burst into tears.” What specific event causes Szpilman to react in this way? Why does it affect him so? Explain.

4. Much of this memoir finds Szpilman pent-up, stuck in a cage, or held in some other sort of cell: an empty flat, a forgotten attic, etc. In Chapter 6, for example, he writes: “The reality of the ghetto was all the worse just because it had the appearance of freedom. You could walk out into the street and maintain the illusion of being in a perfectly normal city.” What did reading The Pianist show or tell you about the psychology of confinement--about the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional costs of imprisonment?

5. Chapter 8 of the book is entitled “An Anthill Under Threat.” Explicate and explain this metaphor. Who or what is Szpilman describing with this image?

6. Look again at the brief conversation Szpilman's father has at the Umschlagplatz with a local dentist and a businessman. What crucial question do they discuss here--and how does each of them view this question? And who did you, as a reader, agree with on this score? Defend your own viewpoint with references from the book itself or with other historical and/or textural references.

7. Around Christmas of 1945, after months of more or less solitary confinement, after years of staying completely hidden, Szpilman briefly imagines himself as Robinson Crusoe. How does he specifically compare and contrast himself with Defoe's archetypal loner? What other literary figures, if any, would you cite as reflections of Wladyslaw Szpilman?

8. Discuss in some detail the role of music in The Pianist. How might music itself be understood as a character in this story? What does music do in this memoir? How does influence or otherwise alter the course of Szpilman's book--and, indeed, the course of his life?

9. Interestingly, The Pianist gives us two back-to-back impressions of the German Captain Wilm Hosenfeld. The first, of course, appears within Szpilman's narrative, where Hosenfeld (although we do not know his name at the time) effectively saves our hero's life. The second impression comes in the form of Hosenfeld's diaries. Draw on both impressions to create a full description (or at least a fleshed-out, 3-D summation) of this person. Discuss whatever links or connections you can establish between Hosenfeld's journal entries and his actions toward Szpilman.

10. In his Epilogue, Wolf Biermann points out that The Pianist "was first published in Poland in 1946 under the title of one of its chapters, Death of a City." Which title, in your view, is the more fitting or appropriate one? Explain.

11. Finally, compare and contrast the memoir version of The Pianist with the film version. In what ways did these two works strike you as similar? In what ways did they affect you differently? (Or, if you have not seen Polanski's film, compare and contrast Szpilman's memoir with other books, plays, or films that you have read or seen concerning the Holocaust.)

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ChadS, October 19, 2013 (view all comments by ChadS)
There are definitely many ways that we can take our daily life for granted. Many of us don’t think about what we are going to eat, where we are going to sleep, or even if we’ll be alive tomorrow. During the Holocaust, thousands of Jewish people were forced to live with these horrific thoughts as they were being murdered by the Germans left and right. In The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman, a middle aged Jewish man is miraculously one of the scarce number of his kind to survive the Holocaust. This memoir takes many twists and turns and is really unpredictable at times. A lack of faith in himself and perhaps a little bit of luck, is what truly brings this story to life. This conflict is able to portray the mindset of the many Jewish people at the time. Thus, it always kept me on my toes wanting to know what was going to happen next. When all hope seems lost, after he encounters what he fears most, some extraordinary luck is what ultimately saves his life from death. Wladyslaw Szpilman was able to give me a very detailed explanation of his perspective on the unimaginable events that were unfolding before his eyes. This book helped me to visualize a real-life setting of what exactly was going on during this awful time period. It also helps me understand that there is nothing that can ever be taken for granted.
This book was by far the most captivating and action packed book that I have ever read considering the many pressure filled situations that Wladyslaw was thrown into.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780312263768
Author:
Szpilman, Wladyslaw
Publisher:
Picador USA
Author:
Szpilman, Wadysaw
Location:
New York
Subject:
Biography
Subject:
Jews
Subject:
Holocaust
Subject:
Holocaust, jewish (1939-1945)
Subject:
Composers & Musicians - Classical Instrumentalists
Subject:
Historical - Holocaust
Subject:
Warsaw
Subject:
Holocaust, jewish
Subject:
Jewish musicians.
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
Warsaw (poland)
Subject:
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Poland.
Subject:
Composers & Musicians - General
Subject:
Biography-Historical
Subject:
Historical
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Series Volume:
10
Publication Date:
September 2000
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Plus one 8-page bandw photo insert
Pages:
224
Dimensions:
8.29 x 5.47 x 0.63 in

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Related Subjects

Biography » Composers and Musicians
Biography » Historical
History and Social Science » World History » Holocaust
Religion » Judaism » Holocaust

The Pianist : The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945 Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$16.00 In Stock
Product details 224 pages Picador USA - English 9780312263768 Reviews:
"Review" by , "[J]oins the ranks of Holocaust memoirs notable as much for their literary value as for their historical significance....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..."
"Review" by , "Stunning."
"Review" by , "Historically indispensable."
"Review" by , "The Pianist is a great book."
"Review" by , "He tells his remarkable epic with great clarity and sensitivity."
"Review" by , "[A]n unusual book that gives the reader the memories of a victim still in shock, unconcerned with enhancing his story for easy reading....The Pianist is not an easy book to read, due to its lack of literary finesse, but it contains much valuable information to add to a student's understanding of the Holocaust."
"Review" by , "[R]emarkable not only for the heroism of its protagonists but for the author's lack of bitterness, even optimism, in recounting the events. Written and published in a short run in Poland soon after the war, this first translation maintains a freshness of experience lacking in many later, more ruminative Holocaust memoirs."
"Review" by , "Rarely has the sheer claustrophobia of living in the Warsaw Ghetto been so vividly conveyed as it is by Szpilman."
"Review" by , "[Szpilman's] shock and ensuing numbness become ours, so that acts of ordinary kindness or humanity take on an aura of miracle."
"Review" by , "[Szpilman's] account is hair-raising beyond anything Hollywood could invent...an altogether unforgettable book."
"Synopsis" by ,
Named one of the Best Books of 1999 by the Los Angeles Times, The Pianist is now a major motion picture directed by Roman Polanski and starring Adrien Brody (Son of Sam). The Pianist won the Cannes Film Festivals most prestigious prizethe Palme dOr.

On September 23, 1939, Wladyslaw Szpilman played Chopins Nocturne in C-sharp minor live on the radio as shells exploded outsideso loudly that he couldnt hear his piano. It was the last live music broadcast from Warsaw: That day, a German bomb hit the station, and Polish Radio went off the air.

Though he lost his entire family, Szpilman survived in hiding. In the end, his life was saved by a German officer who heard him play the same Chopin Nocturne on a piano found among the rubble. Written immediately after the war and suppressed for decades, The Pianist is a stunning testament to human endurance and the redemptive power of fellow feeling.

"Synopsis" by , < div> Named one of the Best Books of 1999 by the < i> Los Angeles Times< /i> , < i> The Pianist < /i> is now a major motion picture directed by Roman Polanski and starring Adrien Brody (< i> Son of Sam< /i> ). < i> The Pianist< /i> won the Cannes Film Festival& #8217; s most prestigious prize& #8212; the Palme d& #8217; Or.< br> < br> On September 23, 1939, Wladyslaw Szpilman played Chopin& #8217; s Nocturne in C-sharp minor live on the radio as shells exploded outside& #8212; so loudly that he couldn& #8217; t hear his piano. It was the last live music broadcast from Warsaw: That day, a German bomb hit the station, and Polish Radio went off the air.< br> < br> Though he lost his entire family, Szpilman survived in hiding. In the end, his life was saved by a German officer who heard him play the same Chopin Nocturne on a piano found among the rubble. Written immediately after the war and suppressed for decades, < i> The Pianist < /i> is a stunning testament to human endurance and the redemptive power of fellow feeling.< br> < /div>
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