Review Blog

Dec 12 2018

The librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

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Translated by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites. Pan Macmillan, 2018. ISBN 9781250217677
(Age: 14+) Recommended. Historical fiction. Based on a true story, this novel recounts the life of Dita, a 14 year old Jewish Czech girl, sent with her mother and father by the Nazis in Prague, first to the Jewish ghetto of Terezin, and then to the Auschwitz extermination camp. There, in Block 31, she becomes the librarian, guardian of a secret library of eight books, a strange assortment that has been secreted into the camp one by one: there is an atlas, a book of geometry, H. G. Wells' history of the world, a Russian grammar, a French novel, a Russian novel, Freud's treatise on psychoanalytic therapy and a disreputable Czech publication The adventures of the good soldier Svejk. The books are forbidden, and they become the most valuable link with another world, the world of literature and education. Dita literally guards them with her life.
Life in Auschwitz is miserable and fearful. The school that their inspirational leader Fredy Hirsch has set up in Block 31 is threatened at any moment by discovery by the Nazis. The cruel and heartless Dr Josef Mengele has Dita in his sights, he is tracking her every move. Afraid, Dita doesn't know who to trust - is it truly as the eccentric Professor Morgenstern says, your best friend is only yourself?
Despite all the horrors she experiences, Dita is a survivor, and in this story Iturbe captures her unique spirit, her courage in the face of the worst evils, and her determination not to be beaten. The book includes other truly brave people, a reminder of the strengths of ordinary people living in the worst of times.
In the end this is an uplifting book, a reminder of the importance of literature and ideas, and of empathy and shared human experience. Young readers and adults would equally enjoy it.
Helen Eddy

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