The Librarian of Auschwitz made me nauseous. I had to put the book down to stay sane at times. It made my skin crawl, my brain buzz, my very soul cringe. It did exactly what a book set in Auschwitz should do.
Antonio Iturbe’s book, previously published in Spain, came out in the US on October 10. There are some awkwardly-phrased pieces of dialogue because of the translation, but that didn’t bother me much. At times, the fact that it’s a translation helped — it made me imagine the book was actually translated straight from German. That it’s a diary rather than historical fiction.
Iturbe’s writing, even when translated from Spanish, is incredibly gripping. There are some advanced copies that take me weeks to get through because I can’t get myself to read past the second chapter. Not so with The Librarian of Auschwitz. From page one, I was hooked. I firmly believe that I would have been hooked even without having read a summary.
It seems that there are quotes that throw a punch on every other page. Often, when I was reading, Iturbe’s writing would kick the air from my lungs.
“In Auschwitz, human life has so little value that no one is shot anymore; a bullet is more valuable than a human being.”
More valuable than a human being. My history books and Hebrew School classes have told me as much over and over — the Germans didn’t want to waste bullets on the Jews — but this quote stuck with me. It’s still ringing in my brain.
Everyone knows the basic story of the Holocaust. Everyone knows the Nazis were the antagonists. Everyone knows what happened in the end. This book isn’t meant to just re-tell the story. It’s meant to open your eyes to what life was like inside. How the real people in Auschwitz spent their time, kept themselves alive, continued on against all odds.
If you want to be absolutely floored by Iturbe’s writing, read this book. Just know that you’ll be looking Auschwitz in the eye. You won’t be looking at old, dilapidated ruins and museums and black-and-white photos and left-behind suitcases. You’ll be looking at a real, functioning death machine. Staring into its open maw, trying to look past the stench of death. It won’t be pleasant, but it will be vivid.
If there’s one October release you should read, it’s this one. You can get it on Book Depository now.