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Novel set in Auschwitz

28th January 2020

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe, novel set in Auschwitz. Translated by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites.

The Librarian of Auschwitz had been one of those books I’d seen for a while in all the piles at airport book stores, but after just finishing Block 46, I didn’t quite feel ready to pick up another Holocaust book. But when I was ordering Christmas presents online, I had to spend an extra £4 to get free postage, so I thought I’d buy it. And it is incredible (I’m not exactly sure what word to use to describe a book as harrowing as this). But incredible it is.

Originally written in Spanish, I have to say that Lilit Zekulin Thwaites has done an amazing job of translating this book. Having studied a bit of translation at uni, and generally being pretty awful at it, I know how difficult it is to do a translation justice. Not only did she do this, I found myself writing so many passages down purely because they were so beautifully written and translated. For example:

(Sorry spoiler… but it isn’t a biggie, so keep reading!)

She wants to escape from the loathsome reality of the camp that has killed her father. A book is like a trapdoor that leads to a secret attic: You can open it and go inside. And your world is different.

Throughout the book, it wasn’t lost on me that the characters were risking their lives for a terribly tatty book and I was sitting on my sofa reading a perfectly conditioned one. In fact, all the way through the book many things were put into shocking perspective. A clove of garlic being smuggled and sold for a tiny bit of soap whilst I’d just used 6 of them in a curry with my washing machine on. Or taking a paracetamol for a cold and shortly after reading about how colds were killers within the walls of Auschwitz. But it isn’t written in a way of ‘you have no idea how lucky you are now’, it’s subtle and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I (sadly) finished it.

The exceptional true (although the names are slightly changed) story is told through the eyes of the amazing character Dita, who is the fourteen-year-old librarian of Block 31 – the school in the family camp. Against all odds, she and her fellow teachers and assistants manage to give the children an education with the limited resources and library they have. Set against the background of this horrific camp, The Librarian of Auschwitz is a beautifully written book and I wish I had read it before going there. A must read.

Charlotte for the TripFiction Team

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