I don’t know what I expect to come out of books about the Holocaust. I think that maybe, with each new one that I touch and pull off the shelf and read, that maybe something different will happen – maybe this time, the main characters will be able to resist, will be able to do something more than just sit around and wait for their deaths, will be able to find hope where there is no hope.
The Librarian of Auschwitz is based on the true story of Dita Kraus, and Iturbe takes some time at the end of his novel (the last 15% or so) to detail the true story behind the fictional wrapping. He’s changed some names, he may have changed some events (especially if Dita did not remember them very well), but the core of the story he still claims is Dita’s.
Throughout history, all dictators, tyrants, and oppressors, whatever their ideology—whether Aryan, African, Asian, Arab, Slav, or any other racial background; whether defenders of popular revolutions, or the privileges of the upper classes, or God’s mandate, or martial law—have had one thing in common: the vicious persecution of the written word.
It’s unfortunate, then, that the terribly stilted translation keeps the book from being super readable. The English translation is awkward at points, confusing at others, and the entire thing reads like a dry textbook. For all of the fire that Dita appears to have inside her, the narrator of her story does not do much more than relay the facts in a very no-nonsense matter. To make things worse, there are constant time skips with zero line breaks (to denote the fact that we’re moving backwards in time), and sometimes I’d find myself in the middle of a paragraph about Dita’s life in Prague and realize that we’d skipped backwards out of the concentration camp.
However, long after finishing this book and writing my review, a Top Ten Tuesday post that I read mentioned how terrible Iturbe is with his Jewish history. I was not raised Jewish, and have only a passing knowledge of Jewish tradition, and therefore I didn’t catch everything that was wrong with this book. If you want a full book review from someone who actually knows Jewish traditions, please check out this post from Leah’s Books. I took my time to read her review and to do more research on Jewish traditions and holy days, and ended up revising this review tremendously and knocking the score down (it was originally a 3.5).
While the core of the story is an important one to tell, the narration leaves a lot to be desired, and the fact that the author gets Jewish traditions completely wrong is a reason that I think this book should be avoided. For this reason, I’d rate the book 1/5 stars. Dita deserved so much better than the narration present in this book, and there are so many books out there about the Holocaust that are actually written by survivors.
Does narration make or break a book for you? Let me know in the comments.
And as always, keep reading.