The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
Digital Audiobook narrated by Marisa Calin
Published by Henry Holt on October 20, 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, Holocaust, Teen, War, World War II, Young Adult
Length: 424 pages or 13 hours, 39 minutes
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Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust.Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz.
Out of one of the darkest chapters of human history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope.
The story being told in The Librarian of Auschwitz is fascinating, but the way it is being told doesn’t do it justice. I found myself zoning out a lot during this book because of the lack of rising action. I’ve thought long and hard about this, because the partially-fictionalized stories of the real people in this novel have a lot of potential, and I think these stories should be told, but the experience was challenging for me as a reader. To put it frankly, I was bored.
Although I enjoy history, my main interest leans toward stories older than WWII. That said, I find myself drawn to tales about the Holocaust because of the horror of it – these are stories and truths that need to be known and told. The Librarian of Auschwitz screams to be that kind of story, and indeed, Dita seems to be that kind of person who should be remembered. The way Antonio Iturbe went into it was interesting, because it’s a piece of historical fiction… but it also relies heavily on real people. Where a book like The Book Thief does very well because of the way it took a real, horrible event and built a character that stole the reader’s heart… The Librarian of Auschwitz barely scrapes Dita’s surface.
I found it interesting that Iturbe chose to change Dita’s last name, but not her first. Her character and the others feel torn between the author wanting to tell their stories, but not wanting to speculate too much about their thoughts and feelings. And with something like Auschwitz, I understand his hesitation. The way the story rolled out… I think it would have been more successful if it was fictionalized a little more. Not to take away from the real stories, but to pull it away from the expectations of Auschwitz and give the author a little more freedom to flesh out the characters. There was a bit at the end talking about the real life people, and I think that it honors them very well… but in sticking so close to reality, the book lost something of heart.
I also do want to mention that I read the English translation of The Librarian of Auschwitz. This book was originally published in Spanish, and translations always lose a bit of something. It depends on the translator, of course, but that could be the case here.
This book was enough to make me interested in Dita Krause and the Children’s Camp at Auschwitz and Freddy Hirsch, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep my attention. The way this novel seemed to be awkwardly suspended between fiction and non-fiction made it drag out and kept the characters at an arms length. The writing style was strongly telling (not showing) and just generally… it felt like the right story, but the wrong storyteller.
Do you read WWII novels? I’ve found myself reading quite a few over the last few years – my favorite is The Book Thief but The Monuments Men was interesting (although the movie was better). What is your favorite book set in this period? Let me know in the comments!